The spectrum bands, or segments of airwaves, could be used in addition to existing cellular and PCS airwaves for such services as high-speed wireless Internet access or streaming video. These third-generation, or so-called 3G services, are already being launched in Europe and Asia, where there are fewer conflicts over spectrum.
Wireless carriers believe mobile Internet access will become much more popular when they can offer speeds and services that compete with cable modems and digital subscriber lines (DSL), making wireless Internet a multibillion-dollar business. The technology already has been developed and hardware manufacturers are eager to sell the necessary equipment to carriers. Analysts also believe that the debut of 3G technology will allow new entrants into the wireless market, leading to more growth in an already rapidly growing market.
Much work needs to be done, however, before carriers such as Verizon Wireless and Cingular Wireless can begin offering consumers broadband on the go.
The first step is for the wireless industry and current users of the identified spectrum to tell the FCC how it can best fit these new, bandwidth-heavy wireless services into a crowded spectrum. The agency must then adopt new rules for doing so, which could involve displacing incumbent spectrum users, by July if it is to meet a mandate set in an executive order from President Clinton last fall. Clinton set a firm schedule that would have auctions for the new spectrum no later than Sept. 30, 2002.
"These bands have all been identified before" as potential areas for 3G services, although not necessarily by the FCC, said Rodney Small, a spectrum policy technician for the FCC's Office of Engineering and Technology, which drafted a set of preliminary spectrum recommendations. The wireless industry, including incumbent spectrum holders that may be displaced, will have an opportunity to offer its input before any final decisions are made.
The five bands the FCC is expected to identify for 3G services are: 2500-2690 MHz, 1710-1755 MHz, 1755-1850 MHz, 2110-2150 MHz and 2160-2165 MHz.
The FCC has focused on 2500-2690 MHz , which houses fixed wireless users such as Sprint and WorldCom that are beginning to offer broadband services to homes and offices.
The 1710-1755 MHz previously was reserved for government use but has been opened up to commercial operation. The FCC will ask if another government band, 1755-1850 MHz, should also be opened up, representatives for the agency said.
Wireless engineers say 1755-1850 MHz is a prime band for 3G services, but the Defense Department operates heavily in this band and has been extremely reluctant to share or relocate, citing national security concerns.
The other two bands, 2110-2150 MHz and its neighboring 2160-2165 MHz, hold various fixed service and mobile operators that had already been notified that they were subject to relocation.
The proposed rules were approved for release by all five members of the commission.
The wireless industry is still awaiting the release of the FCC's biennial review of its Wireless Bureau, which is said to contain a possible revision to the cap imposed on how much spectrum a wireless operator can control in a given market. The item was believed by many to be released by the end of 2000, but now it appears it may not be voted on until the next FCC meeting on Jan. 11.