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The FCC, after nearly two years, has affirmed its plan to allow overlapping uses of the 3.650 GHz band: The agency has reserved 50 MHz for a special kind of licensed use that will make it possible to run reliable high-signal-strength systems from fixed base stations using WiMax or—an import or—any other standard or technology that conforms to what sound like fairly broad rules. The band will allow 20 watts of transmit power versus a maximum of 1 watt for an omnidirectional antenna with Wi-Fi and like systems in 2.4 GHz and some of 5 GHz.
The licensing require is just a bare minimum. There will be no restriction on the number of licensees, and licensees will be required to register themselves and how they’re using the band in their area. The users of the band will have to coordinate among themselves to avoid interference and system problems. Failing that, the FCC could step in. But no licensee under this regime will have any priority rights over any other.
It’s a significant departure from the Part 15 rules that govern unlicensed Wi-Fi and other devices in 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, in which every device is required to accept interference without complaint, but not generate too much interference. The 2.4 GHz band in particular is a problem because there are many competing uses of the band, including licensed users that do have priority (amateur radio operators among others).
The band isn’t completely clear, however. Earth receiving stations for satellite systems will have priority over new uses, and they will have broad exclusion zones that will prevent this band from being broadly used in urban areas, especially on the coasts. Wireless ISPs and others who can, however, negotiate with earth station operators and come up with solutions that let them operate in the band.
Initially, therefore, rural areas will see much simpler use—with potentially no overlapping wireless ISPs, even—and, Harold Feld argues, so will municipalities. The band is perfect for backhaul and network links for a muni network, and cities are in good positions to negotiate with the existing licenseholders—they’re on the hook if something goes wrong.
The lower 25 MHz of the band will require scheduling of time slots among competing devices in the same airspace; the upper 25 MHz entire band will use open contention rules similar to those in Wi-Fi (listen to see if anyone’s talking, and then start talking if they’re not). That’s WiMax rules for the lower band, more or less, and Wi-Fi rules for the whole thing. (Note: I had originally stated that only the 25 MHz top half of the band would allow contention rules; not the case. See the comment from Harold Feld below.)
I’ve linked to Harold Feld’s analysis. Feld works for the Media Access Project, a non-profit that’s interested in expanding the number of voices that get heard by influencing media ownership, telecom, and spectrum policy. So he has a horse in this race. But his description is detailed and tells you who has won and who has lost (no one, really) in the FCC’s decision.
Meanwhile, Ubiquiti already has a piece of gear ready to go—it’s designed for either 3.5 GHz (a more broadly available worldwide chunk of spectrum) and 3.65 GHz with contention.
Alvarion’s BreezeMax with 802.16e is ready for business: The company has been testing their latest version with customer around the world. BreezeMax is part of their 4Motion system, which supports Open WiMax, a way for vendors to interoperate, Alvarion says. BreezeMax works in 2.3, 2.5, and 3.5 GHz.
The company says it’s the first to mash-up Wi-Fi, WiMax in a single platform: The company offers both 802.11b/g and 802.11a radios for Wi-Fi coupled with a fixed WiMax (802.16-2004) radio for backhaul. The WiMax radio, from the Tsunami product line, works in 3.3 to 3.6 GHz licensed and 5.1 to 5.8 GHz unlicensed spectrum. There’s also an Ethernet switch built in. The WiMax radio is certified as a standalone item, but the entire product needs new certification. The company says MeshMAX will be software upgradable to Mobile WIMax (802.16-2005).
Alvarion equipment will be used by Ukrainian High Technology (UHT) to build out further service: The network has deployments in Kiev and Kharkov; the new deployments, also in 3.5 GHz, will extendt o Donetsk, Dnipropetrovsk, Odessa, and Lviv. There are no numbers on customer base or costs in the press release.
Clearwire now passes 205m US, 117m European customers: In their revised filing today for an initial public offering of stock, the company reveals their current spectrum holding position. A month ago, they were coy, probably in anticipation of this filing. When I spoke to two heads of the firm for their Greater Seattle area, I asked if the 90m people passed figure was accurate, wondering about their competitive position relative to Sprint, which claims over 100m people (not households) will be offered their “4G” mobile WiMax service by the end of 2008. Co-CEO Ben Wolf said, “Spectrum footprint dramatically larger than what you referenced earlier,” meaning bigger than 90m people. (This comparison is tricky, because Sprint has discussed deployment footprint, not license holdings.)
On page 3 and 55 of the S1 filing, the company notes that they now own 11.5b MHz-POPs in the U.S. (2.5 GHz band) covering 205m people, and 5.1b MHz-POPs in Europe, covering 117m people. This excludes the recent German auction which adds coverage of 82.5m people, as the licenses were both large (21 MHz each for uplink and downlink) and national. (MHz-POPs are megahertz times population—spectrum bands in megahertz multiplied by local population.) They still have to complete deals that represent a portion of these holdings, they note.
The company also reveals some of their technical decisions on deployment on pages 55-56. They require at least six channels of 5 MHz each to launch service in an area. But they predict that mobile WiMax will provide ever increasing spectral efficiency—both as an evolution in the standard and over their current, proprietary, NextNet technology—resulting in launches that might involve fewer licenses. But they also note that “we could find that new technologies and subscriber usage patterns require us to have more spectrum available in our markets.”
Clearwire currently has deployed service to areas that comprise about 8.5m people in the U.S. and 1m in Europe. But they claim just 188,000 subscribers so far. [link via GigaOm]
Martin Sauter notes that the German broadband wireless access auction is already over: It ran a short course and resulted in €56m for the government’s coffers from the three nationwide winners. Clearwire gets to extend its global hegemony to yet another nation. Inquam is partly owned by NextWave. DBD is a German firm. The auction offered 21 MHz for uplink and another 21 MHz for downlink, which is a lot of spectrum to play with on a national basis for broadband wireless. And competition could be fierce. Some regional licenses were also awarded to increase the pressure, and four existing UMTS (cellular) operator will get squeezed, too.
The German regulatory agency for spectrum launches its 3.4-3.6 GHz broadband wireless auction on Dec. 12: The auction will cover broadband wireless that could include Internet access. Four sets of frequencies in 28 regions are up for bid with 21 MHz paired uplink/downlinks in each set.
Martin Sauter has the full details on his blog.
The terminology kills me: Nortel says that a provider in the UK will use its equipment to deploy WiMax service in the 3.5 GHz band in the UK. But the licenses for that operator allow only fixed use. Rather than use the 802.16-2004 spec which offers fixed-only profiles, Nortel says its partner will use 802.16-2005, typically referred to as mobile WiMax—but which has fixed, nomadic, and mobile uses. (The band is owned by Pipex, which ZDNet reports said it wasn’t working with Nortel.)
There’s still debate over a dedicated band that would allow mobile WiMax, with 2.5 to 2.7 GHz under consideration. 3G operators naturally want 3G-related standards to be the only ones permissible in that band.
Nokia said today that they would offer cell phones with WiMax embedded in 2008: The company will offer base stations with WiMax in 2.5 GHz in 2007, 3.5 GHz in early 2008.
Nortel packs MIMO, WiMax, and IPTV into one system: The company is making huge claims. They’ll deliver video content at 1/10th the cost per bit of 3G cell networks and offer three times the speed and twice the subscriber capacity of non-WiMax competitors. Their system will work in 1.5 GHz, 2.3 GHz, 2.5 GHz, and 3.5 GHz bands, making it available worldwide.
Freescale and Wavesat will work together to create a customer premises equipment (CPE) gateway for businesses and homes: The two firms combine reference design boards from Freescale with chips from Wavesat. Reference designs are licensed to so-called OEMs (original equipment manfacturers), which customize the products appearance and firmware, choose parameters, and job out the production, typically to electronics makers across Asia in Taiwan, Singapore, and China. The devices will first support 802.16-2004 fixed service, but be upgradable to 802.16-2005 for fixed and mobile purposes. That upgradability likely means a different chip rather than firmware. A note at the end mentions 3.5 GHz, but there’s otherwise no mention of spectrum.
The article says that up to 50 cities in the UK could offer WiMax networks: Intel is investing £14 million in Pipex, which plans to roll service out broadly by 2008. The company currently competes in other telecoms businesses. The rollout will start in Manchester in 2007 with eight large cities added in 2008; up to 50 would eventually get the networks.
Clearly, these are 802.16e networks as the reporter says only two WiMax licenses are available in the UK, which would likely refer to specific frequencies that carriers would want to use for fixed and mobile WiMax with 802.16e. Unstrung reports that these are 3.6 GHz licenses.
Pipex had revenues of nearly £102m last year with £7.1m in profit. This isn’t a startup, but a going concern expanding into a new arena. The Independent says that only one other license for this type of service is available and issued—to Hong Kong firm PCCW, which long ago was an investor in airport Wi-Fi.
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.