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FCC frees up spectrum for 3G

Regulators set aside additional bandwidth for third-generation cell phones and other advanced wireless services.

Federal telephone regulators on Thursday set aside more spectrum for third-generation cell phone calls and other advanced wireless services, in a move to spur broadband adoption in the United States.

The Federal Communications Commission has allocated an additional 20 megahertz previously used by unlicensed personal communications services and mobile satellite service. That's a sizable chunk, given the relatively small amount of available spectrum powerful enough to handle next-generation wireless tasks such as wireless broadband and streaming video.

The plan may face criticism from companies that use neighboring bandwidth, such as satellite service providers and cellular carriers, who have expressed concern that it could cause interference.

While the United States has gained ground in broadband adoption recently, it still lags other nations when it comes to the number of homes or offices with a high-speed Internet connection. Wireless technology is shaping up as a major alternative to wired connections for the delivery of broadband service in dense urban areas or remote places where the terrain makes it expensive to lay wires and cables.

The additional AWS airwaves will help "expedite the delivery of licensed broadband Internet wireless service to consumers across the nation," FCC Chairman Michael Powell said in a statement.

Commercial use of the extra spectrum is likely still many months off, however. The FCC has just begun seeking comments on its tentative plan to auction 10-year licenses for the airwaves in specific markets in the United States. It has also asked for studies on rules for the auction, which does not have any date set.

Among other items, regulators are asking for technical studies on how best to control "in-band and out-of-band interference"--or interference with those sharing the same spectrum and neighboring spectrum. The FCC also seeks research on "appropriate power limits," as electricity is another possible source of interference.

In a related action, the FCC altered its rules on Thursday to distribute spectrum below the 3GHz range for 3G and other new advanced wireless services--a sign that even more airwaves could be assigned to those purposes.