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Europe and Asia Propose Extending ITU Radio Regulations to 1000 GHz at WRC-19

US Silent

FCC stalled at 95 GHz

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Our friends at the UK's PolicyTracker, a spectrum-focused newsletter with world wide coverage, have given us kind permission to reprint the article below by Toby Youell that first appeared on their website on October 2.

Radio Regulations may be extended up to 1000 GHz at WRC-19

Two proposals for new agenda items at WRC-19 could lead to the Radio Regulations extending the upper limit for transmissions from 275 GHz to as much as 1000 GHz.

These frequencies are currently only governed by a footnote (5.565) that allows for the protection of receive-only applications such as the radio astronomy, Earth exploration satellite and space research services.

But according to a new proposal from the Asia Pacific Telecommunity, the ITU-R should “study potential candidate frequency bands for use of the land mobile and fixed services” between 275 GHz and 1000 GHz. Similarly, Europe's common proposal for agenda items at WRC-19 invites the ITU-R to “identify candidate frequency bands for use by systems in the land mobile and fixed services” in bands up to 450 GHz.

Gerlof Osinga, vice chairman of the European (CEPT) conference preparatory group, told a recent ITU inter-regional workshop on WRC-15 preparation that the 450 GHz limit was intended to limit the amount of work that would need to be done in the next study cycle.

According to both draft resolutions, using frequencies higher than 275 GHz may become viable as technology develops. Ultra-high-speed data communication systems demonstrated by some research and development organisations can already transmit at a speed of 100 Gbps above 275 GHz, CEPT says. IEEE task group 802.15.3d is developing standards for wireless personal area networks (WPANs) at these frequencies. One use case could be wireless links in data centres.

Initial studies of technical and operational characteristics of services operating in the 275–1000 GHz range have been undertaken by ITU-R Working Party 1A, while ITU-R Study Group 3 has studied the propagation characteristics of these bands. But according to documents submitted for WRC-15, sharing and compatibility between passive services and potential active applications in the bands has not yet been studied at ITU level.•

In view of the pending "Spectrum Frontiers" NPRM at FCC, why can't FCC think beyond the present 95 GHz upper limits of FCC radio service rules - a limit that was reached in 2003.

Discussions with FCC/IB staff have confirmed there is nothing comparable to this in US proposals. Does this indicate a structural flaw in US WRC preparation process? We think so as this is not the first time that US WRC proposals have focused in cliques well represented in WRC preparation and ignored other public interest issues. More later.


The CEPT and APT proposals for new spectrum beyond the present 275 GHz ITU limits can be downloaded here.


Chairman Wheeler, tear down that wall!
What will it take for FCC to break the 95 GHz ceiling in the "Spectrum Frontier" NPRM?


On October 16, 2003 in the Report and Order of Docket 02-146, FCC raised the upper limit of its radio service rules to 95 GHz. They have remained there ever since. The table below from the FCC Allocation Table, §2.106, shows the spectrum allocations and service rules from 86 to 105 GHz. Note the orange circle we have added to emphasize the lack of rules above 95. (Actually there are two small and narrow exceptions: amateur radio use and ISM use.)


Chairman Wheeler last week announced "rebranding" the Docket 14-177 NOI in a "Spectrum Frontiers" NPRM that will be considered at the 10/22 Commission meeting. He stated:

This NPRM proposes a framework for flexible spectrum use rules for bands above 24 GHz, including for mobile broadband use. Promoting flexible, dynamic spectrum use has been the bedrock that has helped the United States become a world leader in wireless.

We are leveraging regulatory advances and propose to use market-based mechanisms that will allow licensees to provide any service – fixed, mobile, private, commercial, and satellite – depending on the band, and allow unlicensed uses to continue to expand. We are proposing to create a space that leverages the properties of this high band spectrum to simultaneously meet the needs of different users.

We hear from usually reliable sources that the NPRM will follow the NPRM and ignore the comments in keeping the bands considered under 95 GHz. In an August statement Chmn. Wheeler wrote

The spectrum bands proposed by the United States to be studied for consideration at WRC-19 include 27.5-29.5 GHz, 37-40.5 GHz, 47.2-50.2 GHz, 50.4-52.6 GHz, and 59.3-71 GHz. We will consider these bands, or a subset of the bands, in further detail in an upcoming NPRM, with the goal of maximum use of higher-frequency bands in the United States by a wide variety of providers.

Our sources report nothing has changed. Furthermore despite the phrase "for a wide variety of users" the NPRM is expected to focus on the needs of CTIA members. We do not think it is inappropriate to provide new spectrum for such carriers, even though many are frankly ambivalent. (VZW did not even bother to file reply comments.) But what about other possible users?

What about broadband fixed links between locations where fiber installation is very expensive? (The fiber and electronics for fiber optic systems are inexpensive leading to a low cost/bit/mile if you exclude installation cost. But in urban environments installation costs can be huge for new fiber.) Millimeterwave fixed systems can serve such applications with a higher hardware cost, but lower total cost than fiber optics. Yet they face the same 95 GHz barrier!

THz-source TPSspectra3000

Why not also remove regulatory uncertainty from the manufacturers who are providing gray market equipment for non communications uses such as Terahertz spectroscopy? For example at left is a 575-560 GHz source sold by a US firm for THz spectroscopy and at the right is a Japanese system for use at 60 - 4000 GHz. These exist in a Title III "Never Never Land" with respect to their legality. Clearly they are not a target of the rapidly shrinking spectrum enforcement operation at FCC, but any investor doing due diligence would be thoroughly puzzled about the regulatory status of such technology. Such uncertainty is a disincentive to private capital formation which may explain why the more elegant device above comes from a Japanese firm.


In recent months ETSI, a nominal "standards organization" that includes most European counterparts of FCC, released the above report which is basically a master plan for millimeter wave development by Europe, Inc. while FCC stalls at 95 GHz. The applications considered in the ETSI report include both those of cellular carriers and other applications. They do not have tunnel vision focused solely on the needs of CTIA's European counterparts and spectrum below 71 GHz. (Does the Commission remember that in 1985 all the key industry players all opposed the Docket 81-413 rulemaking that is now the basis of both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth?)

Indeed, if FCC is at a loss what to do, maybe it should just propose endorsing the ETSI report? This would significantly reduce regulatory risk for US entrepreneurs!

Both the FCC's Asian and European counterparts, APT and CEPT, are proposing for WRC-15 new agenda items for WRC-19 that would go far beyond FCC's present technological meekness. APT proposes to "study potential candidate frequency bands for use of the land mobile and fixed services” between 275 GHz and 1000 GHz while CEPT proposes to “identify candidate frequency bands for use by systems in the land mobile and fixed services” in bands up to 450 GHz. FCC just can think beyond 95 GHz! Why?


Does Wireless Mic NPRM Set a Record for Number of Questions?

On 8/11/15 FCC released the above NPRM in Docket 14-166 on wireless microphone use. Readers may recall a previous post entitled "Do FCC NOIs/NPRMs Have Too Many Poorly Organized Questions?" and a related one titled "How Many Questions in FCC NOIs/NPRM? 'Let me count the ways' " that included Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnet 43 as a service to readers. But the Docket 14-166 may well set a new recent record for FCC!

Let me count the ways:


Above is a typical page with all the questions ending in question marks highlighted. There are 314 such questions and they appear on 49 different pages! Is that all? Of course not! The multiple authors of this document are very creative in making and hiding questions to make an exact count difficult. The word "seek" appears 158 times in such uses as

  • "Further, we seek comment on proposals for authorizing wireless microphone operations in additional spectrum bands, consistent with the Commission’s overall spectrum management goals_ - para. 4
  • "In addition, we seek comment on authorizing licensed wireless microphone operations in other bands. " - para. 30
  • "We seek on comment on the different groups of wireless microphone operators and their various uses of microphones, including the particular applications served by the microphones, the types and number of devices used, the extent to which the devices are analog or digital, the settings in which they are used, and the frequency bands they use. " - para. 33
  • "We also seek comment on the nature of the demand for wireless microphones by various wireless microphone users" - para. 38

Arguably some of the uses of "seek" in the text are not actually questions, so the count of 158 is a little high. But FCC staff has ways of asking questions without either the use of a question mark or the work "seek":
  • "We ask that the different user groups, or the manufacturers of products for these groups, provide detailed information about the particular nature of wireless microphone uses by different groups of users." - para. 33

Your blogger actually compiled and submitted a list of all the 176 questions in Docket 14-177 (24+GHz 5G), but he does not have the patience to do the same in this tangled mess. As we have indicated in the posts mentioned earlier, both UK's Ofcom and Industry Canada number questions in their NOI and NPRM counterparts. Now some would say that they are not subject to the APA like FCC is, but having attended the FCBA reception at the Supreme Court last night, let me boldly say that I don't think the Supreme Court would remand an FCC decision just because its questions had numbers. It might remand a decision because it did not address the record and with so many tangled questions, how does one address the record?


TPRC Paper on FCC Spectrum Policy Throughput


On Thursday 9/17 TRDaily, a prominent communications policy newsletter, published an article about your blogger's paper for next weekend's 2015 TPRC | 43rd Research Conference on Communications, Information and Internet Policy (formerly Telecommunications Policy Research Conference). The previous link goes to the paper that can be downloaded for free.

The paper does not criticize any specific FCC decisions, rather it is concerned about the speed and transparency of such decisions. The concerns raised in the paper are not due to any one chairman or one party, rather they are issues that have developed in the past 20-30 years under multiple leaders.

Here is the abstract:

Today’s FCC is not as well structured to handle the reality of its spectrum policy workload as the early Commission was and may not be even keeping up with workload. Indeed, there is increasing evidence that “triage” is a key issue in spectrum policy. That is the nontransparent decision to even address an issue is a major determinant of its outcome. This could be both deterring capital formation for new spectrum technology R&D as well as creating real risks for incumbent licensees since emerging interference issues that need rulemaking or nonroutine action are not getting resolved in a timely way.

In 1934, the new FCC took a page from the structure of the ICC, one of its predecessors, and divided the then 7 commissioners into 3 “divisions” that could operate independently in the police areas of telephone, telegraph, and radio. There was no Administrative Procedures Act (“APA”) so rule deliberations were far simpler than today. The maximum frequency in routine use was 2 MHz and the modulation choices were just AM and radiotelegraphy. In the early days, a few of the commissioners had technical experience in spectrum issues.

Today we have the APA and nearly 70 years of court decisions than make rulemaking much more complicated. We have 5 commissioners that only make decisions en banc with virtually no §5(c) delegation to staff on emerging issues. Allocations go to 275 GHz, but service rules have been stuck at a 95 GHz limit since 2003. The selection process for commissioners appears to be focused on nonspectrum and nontechnical issues.

The result of all these factors is long drawn out deliberations on both new technology issues and on resolution of merging interference issues. While the US’ economic competitor nations often use “state capitalism” as a key issue in spectrum policy by subsidizing chosen new technologies and then cooperating to remove national and international spectrum policy limits for them, US entities in spectrum R&D often face both a lack of funding and an indifferent FCC (as well as NTIA - if access to G or G/NG spectrum is at issue).

The paper looks at a variety of spectrum policy issues FCC had dealt with since 2000 and examine the delays involved and their impacts. The issues consider include new technology issues such as the TV White Space, the FWCC 43 GHz petition and the Battelle 105 GHz petition as well as emerging interference issues such as police radar detector/VSAT interference, cellular booster-related interference, and FM broadcast/700 MHz LTE interference. The time lines of such deliberations will be reviewed as well as the likely impact of these timelines on the business plans of FCC regulatees.

Finally possible options to improve FCC throughput that are both feasible within existing legislation and consider approaches successfully used in foreign spectrum regulators will be discussed.


FCC Excellence in Engineering Awards:
Well Publicized for the First Time!


The above headline appeared on the FCC home page yesterday. This was the first time that FCC has given such attention to the near annual Excellence in Engineering Awards that started in the Powell Chairmanship. As we have written previously, these awards have been a mystery — perhaps almost an embarrassment to the FCC where commissioners regularly lavish public praise on interns who have been around for just a few months - even minutes after voting to terminate the jobs of dozens of FCC field employees.

In past years there has usually been more than one award, but this year the only award was:

Mark Colombo and Barbara Pavon of the Office of Engineering and Technology and Sasha Javidof the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau are the winners of the 2015 EIE Award for theirwork on development of the analytical tools and software that are the engine “under the hood”powering the TV incentive auction.

Our congratulations to Mr. Colombo, Ms. Pavon, and Mr. Javid for their excellent work and this public recognition. Let's hope that such excellence in engineering work at FCC continues and that FCC continues to recognize it publicly!

The awards are at 36:53 in the video of the Commission meeting