FCC Action Won't Fill Pressing Need for 4G Data Service

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2010-06-18 Print this article Print

Those guard frequencies are in place to keep adjacent services, such as television broadcasting channels, from interfering with each other. The FCC has posted complete agenda for the National Broadband Plan on its Web site. You can also read a a chart of the related action items.

If all of this seems like a nearly impossible, highly complex plan, that's because it is. There's very little unoccupied radio spectrum available in the US, and that means that existing users either have to be moved, or they have to accommodate additional users. When existing users have to be moved to new frequencies, this in turn means that someone has to pay the cost of moving them. Frequently this is because the previous occupants of a section of radio spectrum will have to buy new hardware, and that can be very expensive. 

Moving users in and out of a piece of spectrum can also take quite a while. A good example is the transition to digital television which took years and cost billions of dollars. In this case, consumers were offered television converters largely at government expense, and the broadcasters were mostly moved into the previously under-utilized UHF television broadcasting spectrum. But even with plenty of warning and a lot of government funding, the process wasn't quick or easy. Bringing such a change to commercial users, especially on short notice, can be a great deal worse. 

The fact that the FCC has little choice but to implement a plan of the sort it's about to begin is beside the point. No matter what the FCC does, it will be expensive, it will inconvenience a lot of people and a lot of companies, and it will take a long time - probably longer than the ten years the FCC now projects. 

The only thing that makes it easier is that 4G technology isn't really here. The hoopla by Sprint about the launch of their 4G network notwithstanding, there is no true commercial 4G data service in the US, and there isn't likely to be any for another year or two.  

Whether the National Broadband Plan will deliver the spectrum in time for real 4G remains to be seen, but it's a fairly safe bet that the technology will be here before the spectrum is ready for it. But that's not really anything new - we don't have the bandwidth we need now, and probably never will. Perhaps it's an incentive to companies to find ways to deliver more capability for less bandwidth than they do now.

Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazineÔÇÖs Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.

He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.

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