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25th Anniversary of FCC Decision Enabling Wi-Fi and Bluetooth

25th Anniversary of FCC Decision Enabling Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
A series of posts describing how this all came about. (Click on picture above)

Friday, November 10, 2006

FCC and "The Vision Thing"

In the previous post, a reprint of an article from RCRNews, there was a de facto exchange between "an FCC official, who asked that his name not be used" and me on the issues of spectrum reform and leadership at FCC at present. The "FCC official" was given as the source for the following:
  • "FCC is indeed moving ahead on spectrum reform. "The perception that things are slowing down is not correct. Across the board we've been active on spectrum reform," he said. The official pointed to the completion of the advanced wireless services auction and last week's decision to the permit Qualcomm Inc. to operate its MediaFLO mobile TV offering in markets where TV broadcasters are currently using the 700 MHz spectrum. In addition, he said the FCC continues to integrate spectrum flexibility into its wireless rules."

All of the above facts are literally true. But there is a difference between addressing some of the most visible issues supported by large corporations in the FCC "inbox" and the issue of leadership in spectrum policy. Indeed, while I support all the specific actions mentioned, I don't think they constitute "spectrum reform".

Indeed, the "inbox" is not even being emptied well. Look at reconsiderations pending in Dockets 03-108 (Cognitive Radio) and 04-151 (3650 MHz band). The creation of rules enabling new technology and new bands does not result in capital formation if there are ambiguities and unresolved challenges to the new rules. While the Commission can not directly affect court review of its decisions, it should at least resolve spectrum policy reconsiderations on a timely basis. It isn't.

The path proposed by the Spectrum Policy Task Force was one approach to "spectrum reform". The current Commission certainly doesn't have to be bound by that vision and they seem to have distanced themselves from it by abolishing the task force without public announcement - although leaving a vestigial web site. But 18 months after Chairman Powell's departure, what is the spectrum policy vision of the current Commission? Frankly, I don't know.

As a contrast of the present FCC vision vacuum, look at the strategy statements by its British counterpart Ofcom. If one was considering making R&D investments in innovative radio technology would you want to invest in the US with its murky plan for the spectrum future or UK where you can see the general direction of spectrum policy?

Published Ofcom strategy for UK spectrum evolution

Note that in this discussion, I have not criticized any specific FCC decision and advocated a specific direction. I only ask that the current Commission both "empty its inbox" and give industry and potential new entrants to industry a better vision of what direction it is headed in.

US industry and the wireless indistry in general are now reaping the benefits of the Commission's leadership in the 1980s on making spread spectrum technology available for commercial use and designating the ISM bands for unlicensed use. This was not an FCC reaction to petitions from major corporations - indeed it was actually opposed by mainstream industry at the time! But this leadership resulted in new services and economic growth via both Wi-Fi and CDMA cellular.

FCC new equipment authorization in ISM band each year after 1985 decision
(Wi-Fi and related equipment under 47 CFR 15.247)

In the 1990s the FCC also opened up 57-64 GHz to commercial use in Docket 94-124 without waiting for petitions from major corporations. This time, at least, the major players did not oppose the FCC initiative. Now we can see the growing commercial interest in this band even in the New York Times! Already 13 models from 6 different have been approved by FCC, not counting the recently announced IBM chip set for this band. Would IBM have started investing in this technology if it didn't know the band would be available or under what terms? How difficult would it have been to raise venture capital without signals from FCC?

So Commissioners, please pay attention to
  1. Emptying the inbox better
  2. Telling industry what your spectrum strategy is
  3. Considering initiatives to make new technologies available without waiting for petitions in every case.

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