More tinkering on the way for wireless ISP spectrum

By , IDG News Service |  Mobile & Wireless

"We'd like to see that either clarified or removed so that the 3650 band becomes open to any technology, including WiMax," said Alan Menezes, vice president of marketing at Aperto Networks Inc., a wireless broadband vendor readying products for WiMax certification.

Intel Corp., a strong backer of WiMax, sees the contention issue causing delays and wants that stipulation removed, said Peter Pitsch, communications policy director. The WiMax Forum's petition also asked the FCC to remove the contention requirement, said Margaret LaBrecque, who heads the organization's regulatory arm.

An executive at one WISP is more optimistic.

"I think people will get through that issue," said Jeff Thompson, founder, chief operating officer and president at TowerStream Corp., which offers fixed wireless services in several U.S. cities including Chicago, New York and Boston.

In addition to confusion over the contention requirement, the requirements for use of the spectrum puts service providers in a bind, according to Paul Sinderbrand, an attorney at Wilkinson Barker Knauer LLP, in Washington, D.C., who represents the Wireless Communications Association (WCA), a group of WISPs, wireless vendors and consultants. Those who sign up to use the band are required to make sure they won't interfere with someone already using it in that area. But because there is no established mechanism for enforcing the spectrum rules, at the moment the FCC can offer users no recourse if a later user interferes with their use of the band, Sinderbrand said.

"There's this sort of Damocles sword hanging over anyone who deploys, at least until the commission clarifies," Sinderbrand said. In its petition Friday, the WCA recommended that the FCC divide the spectrum into two 25MHz blocks, one of which would have traditional licenses while the other remains under non-exclusive licensing, he said.

Intel originally advocated licensing the band everywhere, but now it says the FCC should issue licenses in the 50 largest metropolitan areas and leave the frequencies unlicensed everywhere else. Faced with the prospect of many other operators going after potential customers in a dense urban area, service providers won't invest in building a network, Pitsch said.

TowerStream's Thompson and Part-15.org's Anderson think that just requiring users to register their base stations will create a better environment than the crowded 2.4GHz band. Though the FCC cannot guarantee that operators won't interfere with each other, the rules set up a framework where interference issues can be worked out, Anderson said.

The WCA's Sinderbrand and others are hopeful that despite the uncertainties, the rules will turn out well.

"I think what you're going to see, when this all washes out a year from now, is probably a pretty creative licensing approach from the commission," Sinderbrand said.

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