FCC seeks airwaves for new wireless generations

By Jeremy Pelofsky, InfoWorld |  Networking

(REUTERS) -- U.S. regulators said on Thursday they have proposed the government give up certain airwaves to make way for new generations of wireless devices that could some day lead to video on a wristwatch.

U.S. agencies are scrambling to find spectrum for companies to develop so-called third generation (3G) and other advanced wireless devices -- already hitting the markets in Japan and Europe -- that can handle digital multimedia and allow high-speed Internet access.

In Japan, for example, "i-mode" mobile telephones have drawn in 14 million users who log onto the Internet with screens the size of a business card.

The Federal Communications Commission proposed allocating the 1710-1755 megahertz (MHz) band, currently used by the government, for commercial purposes. It has also asked for comment on the possibility of allocating the 1755-1800 MHz band, which is also held by the government, for commercial mobile and fixed services.

In addition, it has proposed designating the 2110-2150 MHz and the 2160-2165 MHz bands specifically for advanced services like 3G, switching from their current use for a broad variety of fixed and mobile services.

"Advanced wireless systems could provide a wide range of voice, data and broadband services to the public over a variety of mobile and fixed networks," the FCC said in a statement. The proposal was adopted Dec. 29 but not released until Thursday.

President Clinton last fall ordered government agencies to work together with the private sector to hasten the adoption of 3G technology amid concerns that U.S. high-tech companies were falling far behind overseas rivals.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), an arm of the Commerce Department that has been studying use of the airwaves with the FCC, said the step was critical for the country to remain competitive.

"The United States has to move aggressively to develop third generation wireless if we want to be a first-class nation with respect to telecommunications and electronic commerce," said NTIA Administrator Gregory Rohde.

The FCC said it will also probe the kinds of advanced mobile and fixed communications services that may be in the development pipeline, including 3G and beyond, and how much spectrum would be needed to support those services.

The agency will also examine whether advanced services could use existing spectrum currently allotted for cellular, broadband personal communications and specialized mobile radio services.

The NTIA said in November that sharing some spectrum to accommodate 3G systems might be feasible under some conditions.

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