The Single Best Thing the FCC Has Done So Far This Year
Baby monitors, garage-door openers and cordless phones, are just a few of the innovations generated by the last time the Federal Communications Commission opened up untapped spectrum for public use. Get set for a whole new raft of innovative products--and faster download speeds.
That's likely to be the upshot of a FCC decision Monday to free up a huge band of high frequency airwaves to unlicensed users.
The Commission said it's opening a 100-megahertz swath in the 5-gigahertz, high-frequency range of communications network transmissions, which is bigger than the entire band of frequency that gave birth to Wi-Fi in the first place.
And for businesses like yours, the move is likely to free up space on congested networks currently offered by private providers, while giving your mobile device more public access at faster speeds. That means you'll also have more free space to innovate in airwaves that were previously off limits, and it could also mean more competition for the large telecommunications providers who have traditionally dominated the wireless space. (Areo, anyone?)
"Our action today will create new opportunities for entrepreneurs and innovators, and much-needed relief to the growing problem of congestion on Wi-Fi networks," FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement.
The FCC elaborated that similar unlicensed spectrums in the past have enabled innovation such as the creation of Wi-Fi hotspots, cordless headsets, security alarms, as well as mobile payments and vehicle radars.
The move to the 5-gigahertz spectrum will enable faster Wi-Fi downloads of about 1 gigabit per second, Wheeler said. (Most wireless networks today operate at a fraction of that speed.) And it will provide more capacity.
As an indication of how crowded Wi-Fi networks are already becoming, nearly half of total mobile data traffic was offloaded onto a fixed network via Wi-Fi in 2013, the FCC reports, citing data from Cisco.
In past years, however, the unlicensed spectrum has added $222 billion in economic value to the U.S. through things such as cost reductions and cheaper products, and in 2013 it added $6.7 billion to gross domestic product, according to a February report produced by Telecom Advisory Services, an international telecommunications and business consultancy.
Not a Panacea?
Still, not everyone's happy about the proposed expansion. At least one satellite company called Globalstar, some carmakers, and a number of unlicensed radio station operators have expressed fears that they could get crowded out of the frequency they currently use.
Actually Globalstar, which plans to build a massive broadband wireless network that would enable consumers to connect wirelessly outdoors, secured concessions from the FCC for exclusive use of portions of the unlicensed high-frequency spectrum.
Groups such as the Consumer Electronics Association fear the carve-out for Globalstar could instead cramp availability for smaller wireless providers.
"Unlicensed spectrum has emerged as an important vector of innovation, serving as a platform for innovative technologies being implemented in numerous consumer electronics products," Julie M. Kearney, vice president of regulatory affairs and Brian E. Markwalter, senior vice president for research and standards at CEA wrote in a January letter to the FCC.
Kearney and Markwalter added: "This spectrum is extremely important to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technologies, and Globalstar’s proposal risks harming these highly valuable and innovative operations."