The role of cell phones in the wake of last months terrorist attacks may have focused the nations attention on the importance of wireless services, but it hasnt helped carriers gain new radio spectrum from regulators.
Despite repeated requests from carriers in recent months, the Federal Communications Commission last week said it will not relocate current licensees in the crowded 2500MHz-to-2690MHz band to make way for next-generation wireless services. The FCC did add mobile services to the list of acceptable uses for the band, however, meaning the airwaves could eventually be used for third-generation wireless.
Use of the 2690MHz band is currently limited to Multipoint Microwave Distribution Systems and Instructional Television Fixed Service broadcasters that use the airwaves largely for broadband services, distance learning and religious programming. The FCCs change in allocation means nothing without the relocation of licensees, carriers representatives said.
"This action tries to have it both ways—removing the band from consideration for advanced wireless services while simultaneously suggesting its licensees might someday permit [it]," said Tom Wheeler, president of the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, in Washington, in a press conference last week.
The FCC decision comes at a time when other efforts by carriers to secure more spectrum are flagging. Wireless service providers have been lobbying for early access to a share of the 1710MHz-to-1850MHz band, which is dominated by the Department of Defense. But the terrorist attacks and the subsequent heightened profile of military communications make it unlikely that that bandwidth will be vacated before the FCCs deadline of 2017.
"There are moments like the [Sept. 11] tragedy when you cant get enough bandwidth, but those times are few and far between," said Fran Rabuck, practice leader for mobile computing at Alliance Consulting in Philadelphia and an eWeek Corporate Partner, who believes carriers have not made enough of a case for 3G wireless services to prove their potential. "Nobodys going to touch the military now. I know Id hate to allocate something for potential commercial use that might not be utilized" when the DOD can use it, Rabuck said.
Carriers are still trying to get the spectrum they won in a January auction and then lost when a federal appeals court ruled that the spectrum belonged to the original licensee, NextWave Telecom Inc.
While the FCC continues with its plans to appeal the courts decision, rumors are circulating that NextWave plans to sell the spectrum back to the FCC in a multibillion-dollar deal. A successful appeal—or a buyback of the NextWave licenses by the agency—would free up the spectrum for the carriers that are clamoring for it.
The importance of wireless services to American safety has put the spotlight on the so-called e911 initiative, which would allow emergency personnel to locate the origin of wireless 911 calls. Saying the technology would be costly and difficult to implement, most carriers have sought waivers to the FCCs mandate that e911 plans be submitted by Oct. 1.