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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)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

MSS Comments in Wireless Innovation NOI

Your blogger has filed comments in the Wireless Innovation NOI, Docket 09-157. Here is a convenient link to all the filed comments using an undocumented feature of the FCC web site.

The MSS comments reviewed the following issues:

I. Introduction
II. Lessons of Pioneer’s Preference
III. Section 7 Issues
IV. “Receivers use spectrum not transmitters”
V. Innovative Wireless Systems Need Both Spectrum and Antennas
VI. “Green” Wireless Technologies
VII. Enforcement and Spectrum Options
VIII. More Effective G/NG Sharing
IX. Are the FCC and NTIA “Test-Beds” real or an Illusion?
X. Decision Making Issues
XI. The Role of Wireless Standards

Among the issues discussed is the question the Commission raised about "green" wireless technologies. In particular the MSS comments raise the question about why broadcasters must use hundreds of kilowatts of AC power to broadcast signals few watch in order to be eligible for "must carry" rights. This is a followup and modification to the pioneering proposals in OPP Working Paper 38 by Evan Kwerel and John Williams.

An observation: The NYTimes has a website that has more viewers than the printed edition. Does anyone require them to cut down trees and process wood pulp in order to get access to the Internet? Why must broadcasters both use large amounts of electric power and deny others the use of spectrum just to get the must carry rights that get them the overwhelming majority of their viewers? Under current law this is most likely necessary and there might even be some constitutional issues involving the rights of cable operators - but shouldn't FCC at least consider the issue?

The comments also urge FCC to work with NTIA to explore the possibility of future federal government systems that are designed from the beginning to share unused spectrum with FCC licensees. Such system need not be as conservative as cognitive radio systems in order to guarantee high confidence radio communications for the primary federal users. I had previously discussed this issue in a New American Foundation paper and at an IRAC meeting.

Friday, September 25, 2009

FDA Asks National Academies to Review Its Approval Process
for New Technologies:
Why Doesn't FCC Ever Do This?

I have previously discussed the June 5, 2008 IEEE-USA letter to Chairman Martin (that never was answered in any way) that suggested improvements to FCC technical policy deliberations.

Part of the letter said,
• The National Academies. In the past FCC, like other federal regulatory agencies with technical jurisdiction, sought advice on long-term policy issues from the National Academies including the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.

However, the last time the FCC asked for studies from the National Academies was in the 1970s when such studies laid the groundwork for two major changes in technical policy: the Part 68 interconnection rules and the sharing of the C band between terrestrial and satellite systems. Both of these issues were tremendously controversial at the time but the basic frameworks suggested by these studies formed the basis for major changes in FCC policy.

Such studies are time consuming and expensive and should not be used for routine policy deliberations, but it is clear that in the 30 years since FCC last used such studies there have been multiple cases where they could have been of value. It is not clear why FCC practice differs from other regulatory agencies in the use of the Academies.
To show that real federal regulatory agencies do exactly this type of thing even in this day and age, here is some recent news from FDA which has gotten "egg on its face" for some recent approvals of medical devices.

An FDA news release of 9/23/09 starts,

FDA: Institute of Medicine to Study Premarket Clearance Process for Medical Devices

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today announced that it has commissioned the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to study the premarket notification program used to review and clear certain medical devices marketed in the United States.

The IOM study will examine the premarket notification program, also called the 510(k) process, for medical devices. While the IOM study is underway, the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH) will convene its own internal working group to evaluate and improve the consistency of FDA decision making in the 510(k) process.

“Good government conducts periodic reviews and evaluations of its programs,” said Jeffrey Shuren, M.D., acting director of CDRH. “Our working group and the IOM’s independent evaluation will help us determine how the 510(k) process can be improved to better support FDA’s mission to protect and promote the public health.” (Emphasis added)

The Institute of Medicine is the medical counterpart of the National Academy of Engineering, a member of the National Academy family. The press release goes on to say how FDA has asked the IOM to perform a $1.3 million 2 year study to review its processes and make recommendations. The study will include 2 public workshops.

Perhaps FCC deliberations for approval of new spectrum technologies merits the same type of objective review?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

New Report on Value of Unlicensed Spectrum

Rich Thanki of Perspective Associates, a UK consulting firm, has completed a report on the value of unlicensed spectrum, commissioned by Microsoft.

Here is an abstract from the report:

The report provides quantification of the growing popularity of unlicensed applications, the value of some existing unlicensed applications, and the potential value in the so-called 'white spaces'. It also speaks more broadly to the innovative potential of the unlicensed approach. The report suggests that shipments of devices using unlicensed spectrum will surge over the next 5 years. By 2014, it finds that hybrid devices using both unlicensed and licensed spectrum could be outselling devices relying solely on licensed spectrum, including televisions, radios and some cellular phones. Sales of both could be overtaken substantially by sales of device using only unlicensed connectivity.

The report establishes a minimum value of unlicensed by analysing three existing applications: Wi-Fi in homes, Wi-Fi in hospitals, and RFID in clothing retail outlets in the US. Conservative estimates put the existing economic value being delivered by Wi-Fi in American homes at $4.3 - 12.6 billion a year. In combination these three uses could generate an economic value of $16 - 37 billion a year over the coming 15 years. The modelled uses only account for 15% of the total projected market for unlicensed chipsets in 2014, and therefore significantly underestimates the total value being generated by unlicensed usage over this time period. The paper also estimates the economic value that might be generated from existing Wi-Fi applications improved through using the white spaces as $3.9 -7.3 billion a year over the next 15 years.
The one area where I disagree somewhat with the report is the relationship between innovation and unlicensed spectrum. I agree that there has been tremendous innovation in unlicensed spectrum and am proud to have been partially responsible for getting it rolling.

The report says (p. 43)

But I think that a lot of the explanation has to do with issues besides whether there is a license or not. In Europe there is a de jure technical monoculture of DECT for unlicensed cordless phones. Under this type of traditional CEPT regulation, there is little innovation because it is effectively forbidden. By contrast, the US has no technical regulation of the air interface of cordless phones other than those strictly related to interference. Thus you can buy many types of cordless phones here, even DECT.

Europe also has a technical monoculture for cell phones thanks to CEPT and the European Commission: only GSM and the newer UMTS/3GSM. No surprise that CDMA, a technological core of UMTS, was first developed and commercialized in the US. In Europe, CEPT and ETSI require multinational consensus before such technologies can reach the market and this is near impossible for "disruptive innovation" such as CDMA in its early days.

The report correctly points out that in commercial licensed networks such as cellular there is a contractual relationship between users and the network and innovation has to evolve so that it does not disrupt the network. In Wi-Fi systems there is more distributed ownership that can response to new technology.

But the key issue here is not the presence or absence of a license, the key issue is deregulation. A major reason why unlicensed networks have been so innovative is that the descendants of the FCC Docket 81-413 rulemaking, e.g. Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Zigbee have been in spectrum bands with great technical flexibility.

Cellular systems of necessity have to evolve more slowly, although the legal stricture that ETSI must approve any change to GSM and UMTS/3GSM not permitted in the current standard does not make any sense to me. With over 1 billion GSM mobiles in use, there are ample market place forces to keep evolving technology backward compatible.

If you overregulate unlicensed systems, they can stagnate just as much as licensed one often do.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Excellence in Engineering at FCC:

No Secrecy This Time,
But Issues Remain

I wrote previously how the ancienne regime made recognition of good engineering work at FCC almost an embarrassing secret. By contrast the Excellence in Economics Awards at FCC have always been well publicized. The only tip that the awards were given last time in 2007 was a speech to the awardees on Comm. Tate's website - possibly because no one told her it was a secret. Additional ferreting was needed to find out who the winners were at that time.

Thus it was refreshing that at the end of the 8/27 Commission meeting, the winners of this year's Excellence in Engineering awards were publicly announced:

Stephen C. Buenzow (WTB)
Navid Golshahi (OET)
John Healy (PSHSB)
Brian Marenco (PSHSB)
James McLuckie (IB)
Chris Miller (WTB)
Michael Mullinix (IB)
Group Award: Alison Neplokh and John Gabrysch (MB)
Group Award: Tom Mooring, Peter Georgiou, David Sturdivant, Juan Guerra (OET)
Group Award: Dennis Loria, David Viglione, (EB) Tracy Simmons, Troy Sieg (PSHSB)
Oddly there has been no written announcement to date. But see 2:21 at the following link http://www.fcc.gov/realaudio/mt082709.ram

My congratulations to all the winners for a job well done!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

info Publishes
Special Issue on
Wi-Fi History

info: The journal of policy, regulation and strategy for telecommunications, information and media has recently published a special issue on "The genesis of unlicensed spectrum policy". My congratulations to Chuck Jackson who was both the organizer of the April 2008 seminar at George Mason University, "Unleashing Unlicensed - How Wi-Fi got its regulatory groove", that resulted in the writing of these papers and Guest Editor of this issue. Below is the table of contents of the issue with links to the papers. These links are free only to subscribers but the original versions of the papers are still available at the GMU site.

Unlicensed to kill: a brief history of the Part 15 rules
Kenneth R. Carter (pp. 8-18)

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Wi-Fi and Bluetooth: the path from Carter and Reagan-era faith in deregulation to widespread products impacting our world
Michael J. Marcus (pp. 19-35)

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History of wireless local area networks (WLANs) in the unlicensed bands
Kevin J. Negus, Al Petrick (pp. 36-56)

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Licence-exempt: the emergence of Wi-Fi
Vic Hayes, Wolter Lemstra (pp. 57-71)

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Grazing on the commons: the emergence of Part 15
Henry Goldberg (pp. 72-75)

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Unleashing innovation: making the FCC user-friendly
Stephen J. Lukasik (pp. 76-85)

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Has “unlicensed” in Part 15 worked? A case study
Tim Pozar (pp. 86-91)

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Guest editorial

The genesis of unlicensed wireless policy
Vol : 11 Issue: 5
Special Issue: The genesis of unlicensed wireless policy
Author(s): Charles L. Jackson
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Sunday, September 13, 2009

USA Today Article on
Cell Phones' SAR Data
and FCC

On September 8, USA Today published an article entitled "Cellphone radiation levels vary widely, watchdog report says" . It began with this line the CMRS industry probably didn't want to hear, "Some cellphones emit several times more radiation than others, the Environmental Working Group found in one of the most exhaustive studies of its kind."

Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) is a measurement of how much radio power from a cell phone is absorbed in body. Usually the head is the key area for cell phones since they are held there. The FCC limit for SAR is 1.6 Watts/kilogram. It found phones that ranged from as low as 0.35 to as high as 1.55. Interestingly, Motorola had both one of the highest units as well as one of the lowest.

I have no personal knowledge or firm opinion about whether radio signals from cell phones affects health. However, there is no reason to believe it does any good to your health* so I understand why people might want to decide to minimize exposure even though the CMRS establishment thinks this is unnecessary. I think it is a matter of consumer choice in the face of uncertainty and government should make reasonable efforts to make relevant data available so market forces can work. Thus I am proud that while at FCC I helped break the impasse on making this information public by proposing a method for doing so that did not require unaffordable redesign of the FCC website.

At the end of the USA Today article, it stated
"The FCC currently doesn't require handset makers to divulge radiation levels. As a result, radiation rankings for dozens of devices, including the BlackBerry Pearl Flip 8230 and Motorola KRZR, aren't on the group's list."
This statement is misleading to wrong. The SAR data is submitted to FCC and is in the publicly available file on equipment approval for each model. The required report is difficult to read for the nonexpert, but in the process of reviewing it, FCC extracts the key numbers and puts them in a place that can be found relatively easily.

I posted the following to the USA Today site to clarify this point ans tell the public how to find the data for any model sold (legally) in the US. (Since FCC spends little resources on equipment marketing enforcement, one can never be sure that all models sold are actually legally authorized.):

The article says
"The FCC currently doesn't require handset makers to divulge radiation levels." When FCC decided about 10 years ago to follow a UK precedent and make the information public, it had no money to revise its website to make the information simple to find. Also industry was lobbying strongly against making the information public - actually it always was public but the key number was in an obscure detailed report.

If you can't find the data for a specific phone on a nongovernment website, you can look it up yourself. First find the FCC ID of the cell phone in question. It is often under the battery. Then go to https://fjallfoss.fcc.gov/oetcf/eas/reports/Gene ricSearch.cfmI The first 3 characters go in the first box and then the rest go in the second box. Then hit "Start Search" at the bottom of the page.

When the next screen appears, hit the checkmark icon under "Display Grant". You will get a copy of the FCC approval for that model. Just below the section with 6 columns of data is a statement of the SAR data.
So for the Nokia model with FCC ID PDNRM-421, enter PDN in the first box and then RM-421.

Like many cell phones, this model can transmit on several frequencies so there is different data for each band.

The process is not simple, but it is straightforward. This is how the private sites get their data to make it more usable for the public.
* By contrast, there is a controversial theory dealing with ionizing (nuclear) radiation called radiation hormesis that states that small doses of such radiation actually improve health. However, I am not aware of anyone supporting a parallel theory for radio radiation.

Monday, September 07, 2009

IEEE Spectrum
Publishes Article


"Radio's Regulatory Roadblocks:

How the FCC slows new wireless technologies - and what to do about it"

The September 2009 Issue of IEEE Spectrum has the above article by Mitchell Lazarus that should be of interest to readers of this blog. Mitchell is a lawyer and a noted practitioner of spectrum policy. He played a key role in Wi-Fi's early regulatory issues.

We agree on many things, but disagree on others. But at this point let me just point others to the article and not bias you by what details I disagree on. You should read it and think about it first.

It may be a helpful reference for those drafting comments to the FCC Innovation Inquiry.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Welcome Back RCR!

The Return of the TAC

The Commission's Technological Advisory Council seems to be coming back in a circuitous way. In April the Commission asked for nominations. Then last Monday they asked again.

Interestingly, all traces of the old TAC web page have disappeared recently from the Commission webs site, possibly as a cleanup drive to get ready for the new one.

The stated explanation of the renewed nomination request is

"Concurrent with the establishment of the TAC, the Commission was charged by Congress to develop a plan that seeks to ensure that people of the United States have access to broadband capability. In support of this and related efforts, the Commission is now seeking additional nominations to the TAC to ensure that its membership best serves the needs of the Commission."
Several suggestions for the new TAC, readers are encouraged to comment - after all this is a blog not a magazine.

  • The Commission has stated "The Council will consist of recognized technical experts in telecommunications and related fields." The previous TAC and its counterpart at NTIA have been overly heavy with representatives from every conceivable party practicing before the Commission with token public representatives. The credentials of some have been questionable other than their employment. A simple and realistic goal would be for at least 50% of the TAC members to have significant peer recognition such as being members of the National Academy of Engineering or Fellow of the IEEE.

  • Brookings has published a book entitled The Advisers that surveys use of technical advisory committess at several federal agencies. I urge senior commission staff to review this survey and decide which type of advisory committee the Commission really wants. I would urge the Defense Science Board model.

  • The previous FCC leadership was ambivalent at best on using the TAC for any issue or subissue related to ongoing policy deliberations. Thus the TAC debated vague issues about future problems - none of which had any impact. It can been seen from The Advisers that other regulatory agencies use advisory committees in more substantive ways. Mitchell Lazarus and I recently had an exchange on his blog on whether the TAC should get involved in advising the Commission whether the exponent of the field strength drop from BPL emissions is 2,3, or 4. Mitchell commented,
    "Rather than consult the Technological Advisory Committee, I would rather see the FCC technical staff base its recommendations on data from actual, reproducible experiments, whether conducted in public by the FCC itself or submitted from outside."
    There are a lot of good things presidential appointees like the 5 FCC commissioners can do but I think the issue of exponents of electromagnetic fields is not one they are good at and their skill in this area was never reviewed at Senate confirmation hearings.
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