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As might be recalled, a good hunk of the 2.5 GHz that Clearwire and Sprint Nextel “own” is sublet from academic and other institutions which originally received allocations for distance learning, among other purposes: Ah for the days when sweet, prime spectrum was given away without a purpose being set in stone. Congress allowed the institutions that were granted these licenses to sell them as a sort of non-auction backdoor that’s resulted in the holdings primarily in the hands of Sprint Nextel and Clearwire today.
Many institutions apparently forgot they had the spectrum, and has the value has become known have filed renewal notices, both on time and late. Apparently, some lapsed licenses if renewed would impinge on other coverage areas, which doesn’t exactly make sense to me since 2.5 GHz licenses were assigned on a frequency and geographically divided basis. There must have been some multiple licenses in the same areas who were supposed to work out conflicts.
Clearwire, which has more of these licenses, Marketwatch reports, wants the expired licenses renewed, because, they say, that would speed the way to getting that spectrum in use. Sprint not so much, as they apparently think they have an advantage in their spectrum portfolio. Clearwire and Sprint will build out a network jointly, if the government approves, but I imagine revenue splits and roaming may be based on coverage areas. The less Clearwire has, the more Sprint can sell to what would have been Clearwire customers.
This article also notes that a lawsuit against the Peralta Community College District was settled with Peralta receiving more fees than originally agreed to. Peralta had alleged a side agreement with Clearwire that would have provided more than the main agreement promised. The suit was filed in mid-2006. The license was their only viable San Francisco Bay Area spectrum at the time.
Two powerful Senators on either side of the aisle propose divestiture of 2.3 GHz, 2.5 GHz spectrum for AT&T/BellSouth merger to proceed: Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) and Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.) say that there’s only negative reasons for the combined firm to maintain this bandwidth. By divesting, they ensure more competition. An excellent analysis of this issue was written back in April 2006 by communications attorney Mark Del Bianco for News.com.
The Tsunami MP.16 system uses the common 3.5 GHz licensed band in Europe, Asia: The company says the product is in trials with nine firms in two continents. This band is not yet sorted out for use in the U.S., but is widely expected to lead licensed fixed WiMax deployments in Europe. The product is in queue for certification.
The European Commission hopes to make a decision about the 2.5 GHz band in October: This band was initially set aside as a 3G expansion band to be distributed in 2008. But it’s prime spectrum and the WiMax camp is arguing that regulators should allow 2.5 GHz users to deploy whatever technology they like in the band. The 3G lobby, which is powerful, feels that they’ve essentially paid in advance for this spectrum by shelling out billions during the first 3G auction and they don’t want to see competition from operators that may have the chance to buy this spectrum for a lot less money. While regulators in Europe are generally starting to consider a more open policy of allowing any type of technology in any band, it’s going to be a tough transition. Apparently France and Finland are arguing against opening up the band to any technology. Other countries haven’t said where they stand.
If the European Commission decides to reserve the 2.5 GHz band for 3G only, it’s not the end of the world for WiMax. WiMax could be included into the 3G family of technologies as sort of a back door entry into the band, though that process would likely be very lengthy.
One significant problem with all of this bickering is that it doesn’t allow operators to plan for the future, a salient point offered by Caroline Gabriel at Rethink Research. If operators knew that they could deploy WiMax, they could build a business case for it and aggressively pursue the spectrum. The big operators tend to move slowly so they need a couple of years to get such a plan together. But by the time a decision is made about what technologies will be allowed in the band, we’ll be close to the 2008 distribution of the spectrum. It’s just an uncertainty that offers one more hurdle for operators.
The French regulator has announced plans to distribute licenses that could be used for WiMax: Unfortunately I don’t know exactly what frequency we’re talking about here but my guess would be 3.5 GHz. Altitude already owns a 3.5 GHz nationwide license in France but there’s room for more. The regulator will distribute 44 licenses, two in each region of the country.
While many European countries have already distributed some licenses near the 3.5 GHz band, many of them are in the midst of distributing additional licenses.
There’s not a lot new here, but it’s reassuring to hear Nextel say it expects to build a network at some point: Interestingly, Nextel’s chief casually mentions NextNet as a company with an interesting fixed offering that can migrate into mobility. NextNet is now owned by Craig McCaw, who has been a big investor in Nextel, though he resigned from the board there last year. Nextel has trialed networks from Flarion and is now trialing gear from IPWireless.
Broadband wireless players aren’t the only ones interested in the prime 2.3 GHz spectrum: XM, the satellite radio provider, just bought a bunch of 2.3 GHz licenses from a company called WCS Wireless (the 2.3 GHz band has been called the Wireless Communications Service band). The satellite radio guys use adjacent frequencies to the WCS band. This is unfortunate because it means that owners of the 2.3 GHz band in the U.S. can’t use the same gear as the Koreans will use because the U.S. users have to work around the satellite users.
Switzerland is planning to distribute three broadband wireless licenses: The 3.5 GHz licenses will be nationwide and will be awarded via auction early next year. I think the regulator is leaving the door open to doing portable or mobile service in the band, but I’m not totally clear on that. [link via Eurotelcoblog.]
The FCC’s requirements on the 3.6 GHz band make it hard for U.S. operators to use standard WiMax gear: I’ve touched on some of this in a recent article for Telephony and during earlier posts here. It’s a similar situation in the 5.4 GHz band, as NextWeb’s Graham Barnes also pointed out to me. These are just two more examples of the spectrum mess that operators have to deal with.
DailyWireless also points out that other bands including the 2.3 GHz band are similarly problematic. There have also been issues in the 2.5 GHz band.
The regulator in the Philippines is reallocating nine spectrum bands: The goal is to encourage wireless broadband services potentially using both Wi-Fi and WiMax. It seems that some countries were a bit late to the game in opening up spectrum for Wi-Fi and maybe now they see the affect that broadband wireless can have and may be more progressive when it comes to making spectrum available for technologies like WiMax. [link via Wimax.com]
Clearwire bought some spectrum from a North Carolina company: CT Communications is selling the spectrum for $16 million. It’s not clear what area the licenses cover, but they are in the BRS (formerly MMDS) band as well as what this article calls Educational Broadband Service (I’m thinking this is what used to be known as ITFS.).
UPDATE: A reader kindly sent along a link that lists which areas are covered by the licenses recently bought by Clearwire.
I wrote a story for a special WiMax supplement produced by Telephony looking at the global spectrum situation for WiMax: It reads a bit like a list of which frequencies might be used for WiMax in many regions around the globe. But the conclusion is that it is a really splintered situation. The best chance for a near-harmonized approach would be in the 2.5 GHz band. But there are huge “ifs” surrounding that band in Europe, where the spectrum won’t even be distributed until 2008. There’s a chance that regulators will cave to pressure from the cell phone carriers and try to prevent WiMax from being deployed in the band.
Leap in Ireland presents an interesting case too. The operator is using the 3.6 GHz band and gear from Aperto. But the 3.6 GHz band isn’t hugely interesting in many areas so it’s low on the priority list at the WiMax Forum. If 3.6 GHz was on the list of frequencies to be certifiable, it would mean more vendors would be apt to build to the band and the cost of equipment could drop even further.
Absent a single frequency to be used worldwide, the best solution is for the Forum to certify as many bands as possible. Eventually vendors can make gear that can operate in multiple frequencies, lowering costs for all and ultimately allowing for roaming. But between now and then there will be a lot of wrangling.
Almost as a case in point, Alvarion announced that it is making its BreezeMax gear available in the 2.3 GHz WCS band in the U.S. as well as the 2.5 GHz MMDS band (which apparently is being called BRS these days). While this could be useful for operators in the U.S. that have spectrum in those bands, the gear won’t be officially certified until the Forum gets to testing those bands.
The industry is increasingly finding the FCC’s rules over the 3.65 GHz band in the United States will make the band only marginally useful: The FCC requires users of the frequency to employ a contention-based protocol. Such a capability is not built in to WiMax, which means operators can’t use WiMax gear in the band. Vendors are working on ways to easily add that capability to WiMax, but so far it doesn’t look like there is an easy way that would allow users to take advantage of the benefits of using a standard.
The Swiss telecom authority is entertaining comments regarding spectrum allocation in order to decide on how to license certain broadband wireless spectrum: The 3.5 GHz and 5.7 GHz bands are to be licensed for use by wireless local loop as well as mobile and fixed broadband access, including WiMax. The German regulator also recently began considering the issue. One of the biggest issues with opening up spectrum in Europe that could be used for WiMax will be the restrictions users might have. Historically, European operators have been very specific about precisely which technologies can be used in certain frequencies. Also, countries so far seem to vary on whether they will allow spectrum users to deploy mobile networks for fear of competition with the 3G operators that hold a lot of weight and spent billions on spectrum licenses.
Apparently the 802.16 and 802.22 groups both have their sights on the 900 MHz band in the U.S.: The 802.22 group was founded to create regional area networks using unused TV channels. But the 802.16 camp believes that its mission is also to support a technology for wide area networks and it would also like to use the 900 MHz band. Both groups seem to be vying for the band or at least hoping to ensure that they can coexist.
The 900 MHz band is prime spectrum because signals can travel far and more easily penetrate walls than some of the higher frequencies. While it sounds like a great opportunity for potential WiMax operators, it could also be a band that is only used in the U.S. or possibly a few other regions in the world. That means operators would have to request that vendors make radios specifically for the band, loosing some of the benefits of economies of scale.
KPN and T-Mobile appear to have won 26 GHz licenses in the Netherlands: The spectrum band is known as LMDS in the U.S. and a bunch of companies famously raised millions of dollars to build high-speed data networks to serve businesses and subsequently most went under. So it will be interesting to watch what these operators use the spectrum for. T-Mobile, an investor in Flarion, conducted a Flarion trial in the Netherlands, but using the 2.1 GHz 3G spectrum. T-Mobile has also been an aggressive user of Wi-Fi, so it appears the company is willing to take the lead with new wireless technologies.
New Zealand is accepting applications for licenses in the 3.5 GHz band: The band has become available in many European countries and is being used for fixed broadband wireless. The band will be the first that WiMax standard gear will operate in.
The FCC last week released some technical details of the rules around licenses for the 3650 MHz band: The FCC will require licensees to avoid interfering with other licensees. At least some folks who are reading the FCC’s order believe that the FCC will step in if licensees aren’t cooperating with each other. In an effort to allow for higher power limits, as requested by some WISPs, the FCC is requiring contention-based protocols to avoid interference. Fixed base stations can operate at a peak of 25 watts per 25 MHz bandwidth.
There was some concern that there might be some sort of “first in” consideration that allowed the first users of the spectrum more rights than subsequent users. Community networkers were concerned that some big operators might rush to the market in an effort to essentially corner the spectrum. However, at first glance at least, it appears that the first users won’t be given any special considerations.
The FCC is using a hybrid of licensed, unlicensed, and grandfathered-use rules to coordinate the band (PDF): An unlimited numbers of licenses will be granted, but every base station must be registered. In certain geographic areas, there will be limits for Fixed Satellite Service and “Federal Government stations” that will create some restrictions. Licenses will be granted for 10 years, work nationwide, and be freely assignable. This last part is important because there will obviously be some cost in obtaining a license, and even though an unlimited number of licenses will be granted, it’s easier when you sell or buy a company to have existing licenses be part of those deals. Licensing terms and filing information will be announced in the future.
Wireless Week posts an interview with analyst Andy Seybold, who answers questions about a wide range of wireless issues: In addition to his typical pro-CDMA comments, Seybold also took the opportunity to warn against using unlicensed frequencies for any commercial service and vaguely refer to all the businesses that have failed after trying to use unlicensed frequencies because of interference. Seybold’s main reason for warning against the unlicensed bands is because the potential for interference prevents a reliable offering. There are a couple of realities that he misses. For example, at one point he says that someone else might put up a network nearby that interferes, either on accident or because they say “the hell with the others.” The fact is, it’s pretty rare for someone to do that while saying “the hell with the others” because if you interfere with someone else, you’re also causing interference, and thus a reduced level of service, on your own network. That seems silly.
He specifically suggests that the risk of interference for systems that might extend wide area networks in-building by using unlicensed networks is too big, especially when customers pay for a “solid, reliable wireless connection all of the time.” It’s interesting that he would specifically use the in-building coverage example because ensuring good Wi-Fi coverage and capacity in a building is much simpler than using Wi-Fi in a wide area setting. Enterprises have been doing it for years. End users have as good a chance of getting a “solid, reliable wireless connection” over an in-building WLAN as they do of getting a “solid, reliable wireless connection” essentially anywhere within the coverage area of a cellular network.
Seybold also very clearly believes that Wi-Fi cannot be a solution for municipal networks. He’s right that Wi-Fi was originally built as a local area networking tool and is now being used as a wide area technology. Most people who use it as a wide area technology will tell you that it has limitations and isn’t ideal as such. But that doesn’t mean it can’t work—it is working as a wide area networking technology. There are plenty of cities in the U.S. that have built municipal networks. What option do they have at the moment? They certainly aren’t going to use one of the cellular technologies. They’re too expensive and require unavailable spectrum. And clearly the commercial providers aren’t meeting their needs.
Seybold also makes clear his views that Philadelphia is making a big mistake by pursuing a municipal network. He says that Wi-Fi is the wrong choice for such a network and that the city has basically been duped by some vendors. He also calls Philadelphia “weird.”
Seybold is on to something though when he mentions HSDPA. He suggests that users will stop using Wi-Fi, especially in Europe, once HSDPA becomes available because of the high price of Wi-Fi. It’s not yet clear how HSDPA will be priced but there’s a chance that the presence of HSDPA will put pressure on the hotspot operators in Europe to lower their prices. Otherwise, Seybold could be right and HSDPA might offer a better value.
Seybold also touches on WiMax a couple of times, noting that the best use for it will be for backhaul for cell companies. He says that he doesn’t believe any carrier will replace their WCDMA or CDMA networks with WiMax. That is likely true. The operators have far too much invested in their existing networks to completely change directions to replace those networks with WiMax, especially when the mobile version of WiMax is so unknown.
He also says that voice over WiMax won’t change the 3G market. I see voice over WiMax as a solution for areas that have no landline connectivity at all for voice. WiMax could cost-effectively and quickly bring fixed voice and data services to underserved communities. My sense is that those types of voice over WiMax services are getting far more attention than any voice over a mobile WiMax service that might come down the road and that might appear to be comparable to cellular offerings.
Silicon Republic has another report from a meeting ComReg, Ireland’s regulatory body, had with the industry here in Dublin: The story adds some broader facts to a post I wrote just after attending the event. It was a bit unusual to be sitting at a presentation from a government regulatory body that was describing a country awash with available spectrum and welcoming entrepreneurs and companies that might want to use it. It’s more common, at least in the United States, to hear talk of maximizing the use of what’s already in use.
In addition to available spectrum that could be ideal for technologies like WiMax, Ireland also has available licenses for GSM and 3G networks. That’s interesting, given that a big slugfest seems to be starting here because ComReg is trying to force the mobile operators to open up their networks to mobile virtual network operators and the carriers are fighting that edict tooth and nail. While it’s a totally different business model, perhaps interested operators should consider building their own networks.