The independent blog on spectrum policy issues
that welcomes your input on the key policy issues of the day.

Our focus is the relationship between spectrum policy
and technical innnovation.

US & Japanese Broadcasters Both Try to Keep Their "Fingers in the Dike"

On Saturday the following tweet appeared from NAB Labs - “an initiative of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) to foster innovation and propel broadcast television and radio into the future.”


One immediate question is what really is NAB Labs? Earlier this year we speculated that “NAB Labs might appear possibly promising, but is most likely just a PR effort from a PR-focused trade association wanting the appearance of a counterpart to CableLabs.” Is NAL Labs an “initiative” or is it a technical facility? First we see that the address is the same as the NAB headquarters - near the former FCC location. Not exactly a technical hotbed area, although I miss all those nice restaurants. How big is NAB Labs? No budget information can be found. Their site gives 10 names, but policy wonk readers will recognize that several have NAB policy positions and are not primarily involved in R&D or testing.


By comparison, the similarly named CableLabs near Boulder CO has 175 employees in the building shown above. While it is unclear what the total size of the building is, it includes “over 12,000 square feet of lab space to suppliers and members who wish to use this development area.”

To give another example of how an industry develops a lab to support its members, consider the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), located in Palo Alto, CA - also more conducive to R&D than the Dupont Circle area. EPRI has 700 employees and an annual budget of nearly $400M. An inspection of their main office on Google Maps shows a complex with 8 buildings. So it would appear that both the CATV industry and electric power industry has “brick and mortar” labs, whereas “NAB Labs” is of a different genre.

But back to the original NAB Lab tweet. It dealt with the long standing FM in cellphone issue that has been a recurring topic here. This started as an attempt by NAB in 2009 to solve a totally unrelated copyright issue by agreeing with MusicFirst, a copyright holders group, to a package of terms that included joint lobbying for legislation to require FM receivers in all cellphones. While there has been no public discussion of such a legislative requirement recently, the new NAB Labs tweets signals something is warming up. The tweet has a link to a NAB Labs page entitled “FM Radio in Smartphones”.

NAB Labs has discovered data that

“indicates that essentially all of the 90 million smartphones sold in the U.S. during that period (2013) were equipped with an FM radio tuner, yet FM reception was activated for users in only about 4 percent of those phones. About 18 million of those phones (20 percent of the top sellers) have fully operative FM radios in their versions sold outside the U.S., indicating that FM reception could be easily activated by carriers in the U.S. versions, likely without changing the smartphone hardware.

Why does it matter? Americans are consuming more audio and video on the go than ever before. Smartphones and tablets have turned into walking entertainment centers. But the convenience of on-the-go entertainment can carry a hefty price tag as wireless companies charge by the bit. With FM radio capability, a mobile device user doesn't have to stream audio, but receives it over the air for free – with less battery drain on the device. And during crisis situations when cellular networks can go down, over-the-air radio stays on.”

Now if NAB is right, why doesn’t the marketplace work here? CTIA argues below that its does:

This continuing attempt by NAB to counteract marketplace forces sounded analogous to action by their Japanese counterparts a year ago. When faced with a new TV model with Internet capabilities that were threatening to their industry model. An English language peer in Japan reported

Panasonic says Japanese TV stations are refusing to air commercials for its new “smart” television, apparently because they feel threatened by its combined TV-Internet function.

Private broadcasters, in a rare case of turning down a major advertiser, have said they will not show commercials for the product, claiming the split screen simultaneously showing broadcast content and Web pages may confuse viewers, according to reports.

So it looks like Japanese broadcasters are also trying to put their finger in the dike to slow marketplace and new technology forces.


New Millimeter Wave Textbook Just in Time for 24+ GHz NOI

Rappaport mmW
Just as FCC opens the issue of mobile use in the millimeter (mmW) wave region with the NOI in Docket 14-177, indeed its first significant millimeter wave policy deliberation in more than a decade, my friend, Ted Rappaport, and 3 coauthors have published a text book on the technology involved. OK, it was actually published 8/30/14 and the NOI was released 10/17/14, but that is close enough!

In some ways this book is reminiscent of the pioneering 1976 publication of Robert Dixon’s Spread Spectrum Systems with Commercial Applications. At the time Dixon’s book was published there were published articles on most aspects of spread spectrum/CDMA technology, but they were scattered other a lot of different journals, often with different jargon, nomenclatures, and symbology in equations. While Dixon had few equations, he tied all the concepts together in a single approachable book. Similarly, but at a higher technical level, this book ties together its subject matter in a consistent way from a variety of sources, although in this case the authors are themselves major pioneers themselves in this technology.

The title’s, Millimeter Wave Wireless Communications, use of the term “wireless” needs a little clarification. It is used primarily in the context of its use in “CTIA-The Wireless Association” - to mean what we spectrum policy wonks call CMRS - commercial mobile radio systems. More specifically it deals with base station/mobile uplinks and downlinks in the mmW region - something that was thought inconceivable a decade ago. However, it also deals with unlicensed 60 GHz systems such as those permitted under §15.255. It does not deal with fixed services such as the 70, 80, and 90 GHz systems authorized under §101.1501+ and does not deal with other radio services such as satellite systems, except in brief parenthetical sections. But within its scope it is very thorough and unique in its comprehensive treatment of this rapidly evolving technology. I would urge the authors to expand the scope to include fixed systems in the almost certain next edition since much of the present material already applies to both mobile and fixed.

Since this is a spectrum policy blog, let us mentioned a final concern: the discussion of the evolution of US mmW regulations has some minor garbles. For example on p. 507 it states that in 1998 “USA became the first country in the world to authorize low power unlicensed 60 GHz operations”, while 2 pages later it says “In 1995, the FCC allocated the 57-64 GHz frequency band for unlicensed communications” - which is the correct date although the initial band was 59-64 GHz. Readers wanting a more detailed and accurate history, including the key 1988 study from the UK spectrum regulator suggesting unlicensed in 60 GHz, might wish to read your blogger’s history page on the subject. However, most readers of the book will not be spectrum policy wonks and will probably glance over these details.

But the people who have to draft comments in Docket 14-177 and those who will be designing mmW mobile systems needs not be concerned about these points. Within its prime subject matter of CMRS uplinks/downlinks it ties together for the first time information in disparate issues such as
  • multipath mobile mmW propagation,
  • atmospheric effects
  • antenna technology including adaptive antenna technology to overcome the multipath,
  • mmW device technology, and
  • high level design issues
If you are more interested in fixed systems, I recommend the 2000 book, now somewhat dated, Modern Millimeter-Wave Technologies by Teshirogi and Yoneyama that complements this new book in many ways. Unfortunately it is out of print but much of it is available on Google Books. (Your blogger worked for a few months with Dr. Teshrogi in Japan in another technical field in the 1990s.)

Mysterious 10/24 "Special Commission Meeting"

Late Friday FCC released a very unusual sunshine notice for a “special commission meeting” on 10/24 at 2:30 PM - itself an odd time for such a meeting. What is going on?

In response to our tweet on the issue several speculated it deals with the **dskins matter. We don’t think so. The issue there is a challenge to a broadcast station renewal which is not an enforcement matter and will be dealt with in a different procedure on a less urgent basis.

Our best guess is that this is something that has lingered on circulation at FCC for a while with a cryptic title that no one noticed since there are often such cryptic enforcement titles on the list. The Chairman has great control over the FCC’s agenda and perhaps got fed up with this issue lingering on the circulation list without everyone voting on it and perhaps forced the issue to a head by calling an open meeting when they can force a vote if a quorum shows up. This presumes that at least 2 other commissioners want the issue resolved in a public way.

What type of issue would force such a confrontation on the 8th Floor? Most likely it is an issue that will be of interest to consumers - considering how close it is to the election.

One possibility is a net neutrality-like issue with a major ISP. While FCC has no specific net neutrality rules in place, a case could be make that some major ISPs has been deceiving customers - a violation of other rules that are in place. For example, my ISP charges me for 15 Mbps service and advertises that it meets or exceeds that goal, but when I use Netflix I am certain that the speed is much less.

On the other hand Communications Daily reported today that it is a routine enforcement matter that was about to meet a statute of limitations deadline and that the 2 Republicans had not voted yet on it during circulation due to concerns about an overly aggressive stance of the new EB leadership. As we have written before, the basic problem in recent years has been that EB has been too enforcement adverse. Clearly there is a disagreement on this issue on the 8th Floor. Commissioners generally want to be friends with various industries. Giving out things like spectrum gets you friends, taking enforcement actions doesn’t.


Surprisingly FCC kept secret the details of who they target of this enforcement action was until about 2 hours before the scheduled “special meeting”. At that time a press released appears on the FCC website with the basic details and said a fine would be issued and the meeting was cancelled. Late in the day, an NAL was posted about “10M Fine Proposed Against TerraCom and YourTel for Privacy Breaches”. Note that Commissioners Pai and O’Rielly had serious questions about the statute involved and the lack of FCC rules and precedents in this area. We will leave it to the courts to decide who is right.

Do not expect your taxes to decrease because of the accused firms paying $10M. Your blogger doubts anywhere near that will ever be collected based on past experience. May there will be a consent decree, but it will likely be for much less.

Here is a story about it from our hometown newspaper entitled “FCC: Phone companies posted private info online” with additional information

Acceleration of Broadband Deployment by Improving Wireless Facilities Siting Policies

The title of this post is the title FCC used for today’s Report and Order on tower siting (presumably not “sitting” as one FCC announcement said.)

The discussed focused on the urgent need for wireless capacity and the related wireless infrastructure. WE FULLY AGREE!

But there were 2 key points that were not said, perhaps they would be awkward given the influence of the cellular establishment at FCC and in DC in general.

First, we have used this diagram from an Ofcom report several times although we have never seen a similar diagram in any FCC publication, let alone a CTIA one. Wireless capacity is a function of 3 different inputs: spectrum, technology, and “topology”/wireless infrastructure. Historically most of the increase in capacity has come from infrastructure growth, not spectrum increases. If you double the available spectrum for cellular carriers you may increase capacity by more than 2, but you will not increase it by a factor of 20. If you need a 10,000 fold increase in capacity you need a lot more infrastructure - that is why the issue is so important. But spectrum demands generally gets much more attention. Why?

NYC cell
Second, the discussion focused almost entirely on the problem being local governments that don’t appreciate how important wireless capacity is. For no rational reason, at least that was mentioned, do local governments question the proposed installations of the cellular establishment. Well, your blogger has a somewhat different viewpoint that has been stated here before: Too often cellular infrastructure looks like it was “designed by engineers” and does not consider the physical design of the immediate environment. Here is a pair of essays from your blogger and an industry engineer that discuss very different views on this issue. You decide.

Now the cell industry does sometimes due a good job in designing infrastructure to match its environment. Here are 3 examples of apparently modest cost installations that are reasonable design compromises. Note that in all 3 cases the covers/radomes of the antennas approximately match the surface they are mounted on; in addition there a no loose visually contrasting cables in these last 3 photos:

(In NYC only 2 blocks from the previous photo)
ant7 ant6 ant5

2 way
However, the unnecessary visual ugliness of the first photo is much more common than the good design of the next 3. If FCC and the cellular industry want local governments to be more cooperative, they should view cooperation as a 2-way street. Cellular infrastructure should more consistently consider its immediate environment as part of improving the interactions between the industry and local governments. Remember what Tip O’Neill famously said:

“All politics is local”

There is a limit how much the cellular industry can impose on local jurisdictions at the current ugliness levels without a grassroots political backlash. But well designed infrastructure need not be either ugly or very expensive. More consistent attention to physical design is urgently needed!


PCIA Press Release: PCIA Applauds FCC’s Order on Wireless Infrastructure – Streamlined Rules Will Speed Broadband Deployment


HBO & CBS: Enabling Cutting Both the CATV and Spectrum "Cord"

Yesterday HBO announced that it would offer the Netflix video on demand model called HBO GO over Internet without requiring a MVPD/CATV-like subscription. It is time to remove all barriers to those who want HBO," the network's chief executive Richard Plepler said yesterday. "So, in 2015, we will launch a stand-alone, over-the-top HBO service in the United States." So why are we talking about this here in a spectrum blog? This is either the “elephant in the room” or the “camel’s nose under the tent” in the spectrum biz.

Even major NAB member CBS is jumping on the bandwagon of alternatives to spectrum! Today they announced CBS All Access:

“a new digital subscription video on demand and Nielsen-measured live streaming service for the CBS Television Network. CBS All Access will offer subscribers thousands of episodes from the current season, previous seasons and classic shows on demand, as well as the ability to stream local CBS Television stations live in 14 of the largest U.S. markets at launch”.

Since the end of WWII broadcast over-the-air (OTA) TV has been both a large spectrum user and a huge player in spectrum regulation. When I joined FCC in 1979, we were at the end of a spectrum policy era in which the TV broadcasters, Motorola, and AT&T were the key players and virtually dictated how spectrum would be divided between their constituencies. Now Motorola and AT&T are a shadow of their former selves and perhaps the time has come for the TV broadcasters to “exit left” from the spectrum policy dictating business.

Sources have told us that the early drafts of the National Broadband Plan pointed out that when 50+ Mbps broadband becomes a universal service-like national norm - something that is critical to US society and economy for reasons not directly related to spectrum policy, then spectrum for OTA TV in urban areas will no longer be important since the content can be easily distributed over the broadband. Now some will ask about the economically disadvantaged - a real concern. But is allocating 100s of MHz and pumping megawatts in the ether the only way to deal with universal access to “free TV”? Universal access could also be handled by providing Internet based distribution of “basic video” - the present “free TV” - on either a Universal Service Fund-like model or via a freemium pricing model where basic video is free over broadband and higher tier services are priced separately, either in packages or individually. You will not find any such discussion in the published NBP. It was too controversial and pressure from the Hill resulted in its deletion as a topic.


Recall the Justice Alito 2012 quote shown above in a dialogue with Fox’s lawyer at the Supreme Court. Elected officials, FCC staff, and even FCC commissioners can not be as candid as Justice Alito who has life tenure. Maybe OTA TV will be here forever, but shouldn’t FCC and the spectrum policy community consider other alternatives?

The spectrum held by TV broadcasters today has huge economic value. Without worrying about issues of “unjust enrichment” we should let the broadcasters recoup that market value by programs such as the incentive auction so that the spectrum goes to its best uses - not necessarily the CTIA membership. The present OTA broadcasters will thus be compensated and the political process will not have to deal with determining fair compensation or the nuances of § 304. But the main reason OTA broadcasters use spectrum and megawatts of RF is get “must carry” rights to demand compensation from MVPD operators. The vast majority of US household simply do not watch OTA signals directly, although NAB and CEA can’t agree on the details of the data. There must be a better way!

We also note that this year HBO and Game of Thrones dominated Emmy nominations. Here's how the broadcast networks stacked up:

  • CBS – 47 nominations
  • NBC – 46 nominations
  • ABC – 37 nominations
  • PBS – 34 nominations
  • FOX – 18 nominations

And here's the list of non-OTA leaders
  • HBO – 99 nominations
  • FX Networks – 45 nominations
  • Showtime – 24 nominations
  • Comedy Central – 21 nominations
  • Lifetime – 17 nominations
  • FOX/NatGeo – 12 nominations

Notice a trend?

An Incorrect NerdAlert Prediction from 11/13