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Our focus is the relationship between spectrum policy
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FCC Reform in the Next Administration - Part 1

Since it is clear now that FCC will get a new chairman shortly and several new faces on the 8th floor, it is timely to start a dialogue about how FCC should change to be more responsive to the current state of its jurisdiction as well as the desires of the new administration. This will be first in a series of posts to raise ideas for consideration. Feel free to post comments to any of them. I promise to post all nonobscene relevant topics regardless of their viewpoint.

These posts will focus on spectrum policy issues and innovation. While net neutrality, privacy and competition are key issues, many others speak on them and they will not be addressed here.

For the first posting let me point out the spectrum policy recommendations that have been made by IEEE-USA, the US arm of the transnational electrical engineering society that covers all the technical aspects of FCC jurisdiction. These are in a document entitled
"Improving U.S. Spectrum Policy Deliberations in the Period 2017-2021". Although they focus on FCC, some also address related NTIA federal spectrum management issues because FCC's §301 jurisdiction is so closely connected to NTIA's delegated authority of §305. The recommendations are in 3 different areas. Below offer the areas and the basic commendations in each. More discussion is in the IEEE-USA document.

Process Improvement:

  • FCC and NTIA should explicitly acknowledge the role of Section 7 of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, and the intent of Congress to encourage new communications technology and services. These agencies should adopt transparent procedures for determining which innovations are subject to this statute and should make readily available information on such proceedings. The FCC and NTIA should recommend changes in the statute in a timely way, if the current terms of Section 7 are deemed not practical.

  • Petitions for rule changes and clarifications are key issues in the regulation of the dynamic telecommunications industry. FCC should act on such petitions in a more transparent way, and make available information on petitions and their status on a consistent timely schedule.

Improved technical resources for FCC and NTIA to improve decision making:

  • In selecting presidential appointments to FCC, NTIA, and the State Department in communications policy functions consideration should be given to individuals with experience in information and communications technology (ICT), to balance the backgrounds of the officials in these key positions.

  • FCC commissioners should consider appointing individuals with experience in information and communications technology (ICT). as one of their three assistants, allowed by law.

  • FCC and NTIA should supplement their existing Technological Advisory Council (TAC) and Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee (CSMAC), which consist mainly of representatives of major communications firms, with a new advisory committee that serves both agencies and focuses on independent review of options for resolving spectrum conflicts and identifying outdated policies. The new group should be modeled on the EPA Science Advisory Board and the NRC Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards and members should have the necessary security clearances to deal with issues involving classified federal government spectrum users, if so requested.

  • FCC and NTIA should have the resources to contract with the National Academy of Science’s National Research Council (NAS/NRC), Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs) and private analysis contractors, to supplement their internal staffs on novel technical policy questions where they lack the appropriate internal resources.

  • The NTIA and FCC technical staffs are key to the long-term success of U.S. spectrum policy. Recruiting and developing the careers of these personnel should be done using the best practices of other agencies involved in technical policy development.

Other Issues to Stimulate Innovation:

  • The executive branch should act to review and implement the recommendations for federal spectrum management reform in Sections 5.2 – 5.6 of the July 2012 President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) report, “Realizing the Full Potential of Government-Held Spectrum,” to facilitate the reallocation and sharing of federal spectrum for private sector use.

  • FCC should complete action in a timely way on Docket 09-157, which deals with wireless technical innovation.

NY/NJ Bombings, Cellular & Public Safety: "Best of Times/Worst of Times"

The news from New York and New Jersey about the bombings today in many ways in vindication of cell phone industry and public safety agency planning for new ways to do alerts Because of the timely alert and the public response, the suspect was apprehended with astounding speed! Congratulations to all those in the cellular industry, public safety entities, and FCC involved in developing such alert systems so they could be used effectively in times of emergency.

However, we would like to point out another issue that is in preliminary news accounts: Several of the bombs involved had "flip phones" as part of them. Were these phones used like in Iraq/Afghanistan IEDs as a remote triggering mechanism? Too soon to tell from public sources. But this blog has been pointing out that unlike many other industrialized countries, the US has allowed unlimited sales of "burner"/prepaid phones over the counter with no documentation even as it has required some documentation for any Sudafed purchase to prevent diversion of that medication to crystal meth labs.

While there are valid reasons to allow some sales of prepaid phones without full documentation for battered spouses and others who are being unlawfully harassed, that does not mean you should be able to walk into Best Buy and purchase a dozen for cash without any record!

Those of us who travel overseas without corporate expense accounts and purchase local SIM cards requiring some identification for our unlocked US cell phones know it is not a large burden. But the US cellular interests seem to have had zero interest in this since prepaid phones are very profitable. On 12/27/11 we wrote here:

Unrestrained use of anonymous prepaid cell phones. Prepaid cell phones are a growing market and have many legitimate uses. One writer reports that “in 2009, in excess of 80 percent of new cell phone subscription growth came from prepaid service plans.” But nearly all the cell phones used illicitly in prisons and a major fraction of those used in crimes are prepaid “throw aways”.

Until recently, the largest prepaid operator, TracFone, allowed users to activate a phone bought anonymously and “skip” the step to report name and address. However, the option of buying with cash bagfuls of prepaid phones at Walmart, activating them over the web with a false name and address, and selling them for criminal use is still quite real. Isn’t it odd that we more concerned about over-the-counter sales of Sudafed and Plan B than we are about bagfuls of anonymous cellphones?

Many countries require some identification before prepaid phones can be activated. This is a complex issue both because of the size of the market and the appeal of prepaid phones to market sectors who need them for legitimate economic and safety-related reasons but, as we know from the voter ID controversy, may lack or be unwilling to identify themselves in the standard ways. While I sincerely hope we never have a cellphone-related IED attack in this country, such an event would force a PATRIOT Act-like knee jerk reaction that could be more draconian that a deliberate process now to address the situation.

Isn't it about time now to revise the issue of prepaid cellphones, also used greatly in prisons and by drug dealers, to come up with a reasonable set of registration criteria that does not hinder legitimate users?

Are Sudafed and nail polish remover really
more dangerous than totally undocumented cell phones?


Later reports suggest that the flip phones used in these bombs were the power source and timer and that these bombs were not activated by a remote radio signal. There is no public information as yet on whether the phone were "burner"/prepaid or subscription/postpaid. But it would be a failure of the imagination to not wonder if the remote detonation capacity used in Iraq and Afghanistan by terrorists will arrive in the US.

There is anecdotal evidence in the DC area that for several years motorcades of VIPs have been sometime accompanied by a fog bank of cellular jamming - presumably to defend against this type of attack.


Mobile operators to shift from "pure Wi-Fi" to unlicensed services tied to LTE, says report


[Reprinted with kind permission of PolicyTracker,
a London-based spectrum newsletter.]

The report, "Carrier Wi-Fi and LTE-U 2016," predicts a "decisive transition" from "pure Wi-Fi" to the tying of unlicensed services to LTE in various ways.

Mobile operators have historically invested in significant Wi-Fi networks, said analyst Kyung Mun in the report. Investment in unlicensed spectrum is likely to increase, but it will be redirected toward licensed assisted access (LAA), LTE Wi-Fi aggregation (LWA) and LTE WLAN radio level integration with IPsec tunnel (LWIP), he said.

Some of the new funding will be coupled to small cells, with multiple business models emerging as companies, carriers and over-the-top players look to capture end-users. "The competition for unlicensed spectrum use via Wi-Fi or LTE-U is a reflection of the competitive dynamics of the different types of operators," Mun said.

Around 80 per cent of mobile data is carried over Wi-Fi today, but that figure will rise to at least 90 per cent by 2020, said Mobile Experts analyst Joe Madden. Unlicensed data traffic tied to LTE control channels "will greatly improve on ease of use, and will be far more reliable than Wi-Fi services," he said. Operators will invest because hybrid combinations of LTE and unlicensed wireless can be as low-cost as Wi-Fi and as dependable as LTE.

"We believe many mobile operators are motivated to more effectively leverage the unlicensed spectrum via LWA/LWIP or LTE-U/LAA technologies, and the use will be driven by availability or handsets that can take advantage of these technologies as well as necessary infrastructure investment," Mun told us. Handsets that can take advantage of these features "will come to market in 2017 based on our supply check".

"Pure" unlicensed spectrum better?

The report asserts that most data being carried over unlicensed spectrum by 2020 will do so via a tie-in to LTE and sharing of licensed bands, said Simon Forge, director of consultancy SCF Associates. But the more likely scenarios "may be a preference for pure unlicensed spectrum, not anchored with a licensed band for aggregation," he told PolicyTracker.

That has more attractive business advantages for new entrants, and there are lots of protocols under consideration, such as MuLTEfire from Qualcomm with use of LTE packet protocols. "The interesting protocol area may be further developments in Wi-Fi with new open standards," Forge said.

But the key point is that there is pressure for the extension of unlicensed swathes of spectrum through the adoption of new licence-exempt bands, most usefully in the sub-1 GHz range. The question facing the "world's billions" is how soon that could happen: "Possibly not too soon but probably before 2030," Forge said.

Compatibility issues unresolved

The report appears to say that transition to aggregations of Wi-Fi and LTE-based unlicensed services is a "done deal," said SCF Associates senior consultant Robert Horvitz. "But the compatibility tests between Wi-Fi and the various LTE variants haven't even started," he told us. Nor has there been any discussion of the practical need for a licensed anchor to manage unlicensed bandwidth. "If there's really no technical need for that - and I believe that's the case - then it's just an excuse for cellcos to claim the right to bill users for free bandwidth," he said.

Mun said compatibility tests between Wi-Fi and LTE-U had been going on for some time with various constituents, and to varying degrees in lab and field tests. The Wi-Fi Alliance is working on a draft Wi-Fi/LTE-U coexistence test plan, an effort which has been delayed several times and which is now expected to be completed in September, he said.

Meanwhile, some mobile operators and vendors are carrying out field trials while they await regulatory approval, Mun said. For the mobile operators, with licensed spectrum, the licensed anchor "provides a reliable 'control mechanism' of sorts," he told us. By conducting all control signalling via the licensed anchor, they can manage quality of service better and can use the unlicensed spectrum as a supplemental downlink when needed.

What's really needed is "close cooperation between 3GPP, IEEE and regulators to develop a consensus on rules for hybrid band sharing and aggregation (fixed/mobile converged networks that combine licensed and licence exempt band use)," said Horvitz. And if not rules, he added, then there should at least be principles concerning technical and coexistence fairness issues.•

© PT Publishing 2016


2 Unsung FCC Pioneers in Early 5G #HighBandSpectrum Policy


There is an implicit viewpoint at FCC that telecom technology is like a "conveyor belt sushi"/kaitensushi /回転寿司 restaurant in Japan: you sit at the counter and various types of sushi come on a conveyor belt in front of you unordered and you just wait until you see one you like and then take it off for eating. So at FCC you just wait for telecom technology to magically come from a conveyor belt and you pick winners and ignore the losers.

Video on "conveyor belt sushi"/kaitensushi /回転寿司 in Japan from NHK

Well, telecom technology does not come by magic! It requires bright people with good ideas and then investment in R&D to work on such ideas. In radio technology, the risk of that investment and thus its commercial likelihood depends on regulatory risk of FCC approving the commercial use and hence profitability of the technology.

Rappaport mmW
Prof. Theodore Rappaport's Millimeter Wave Wireless Communications makes clear that a key early factor in this field was the FCC's sua sponte Docket 94-124 initiative. Ted writes in Chapter 9:

"it took about ten years for low-cost commercial products to evolve from 1998 (sic) when USA became the first country in the world to authorize low-power 60 GHz operation…(S)hort range wireless networks provided the relevant applications to take advantage of unlicensed 60 GHz spectrum, as well as other frequencies in the mmWave band…Due to the inherent nature of mmWave frequencies … many emerging or future mmWave wireless products and standards (such as 5G mmWave cellular, inter vehicular communications, and backhaul/fronthaul communications standards) are likely to share characteristics with the 60 GHz WPAN/WLAN standards.

Thus #HighBandSpectrum 5G did not come unsummoned from a sushi conveyor belt, but derived from earlier visionary FCC action in Docket 94-124 in the Hundt Chairmanship. In my main website I have given more background of how this came about, here let me emphasize the role of the 2 individuals shown above.

When I proposed the concept of a 60 GHz unlicensed band in late1992 to the leadership of FCC's Office of Engineering and Technology, it was immediately rejected. This was probably because of the FCC culture related to "Nobody every got fired for buying IBM", i.e. if you only do things major regulatees propose you can never be criticized. (At the time I was working in EB's predecessor FOB as part of an "internal exile" resulting from the Docket 81-413 proceeding that is now known as the basis of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth but which at the time was very controversial.)

After the OET rejection, I sought guidance from Dr. Robert Pepper - legendary Chief of the FCC's Office of Plans and Policy (now OSP) from 1989 to 2005 - an amazing tenure in a very partisan agency. Bob was interested in the idea when I presented it to him, he asked me many questions and then proposed a meeting with the Chairman's Office to discuss the issue. This was during the Quello Chairmanship and Dr. Brian Fontes, his long term staffer was his Chief of Staff. Bob came with me to the meeting with Brian and the then Chief of OET. We both gave our viewpoints and Brian agreed with me that we should start drafting an NPRM for unlicensed use of 60 GHz - far above the then upper limit of FCC radio service rules at 40 GHz. The NPRM was drafted and approved on 10/20/95 under Chmn. Hundt who succeeded Quello. The R&O was adopted on 12/15/95 and by that time both Dr. Pepper and Dr. Fontes had left FCC after many years of loyal service.

Bob is now Vice President, Global Technology Policy at Cisco. Brian is now Chief Executive Officer of the National Emergency Number Association.

I hope that the 5G community can now remember that these two gentlemen played a key role in the early development of 5G #HighBandSpectrum policy in starting the "conveyor belt" moving at a time when the cellular mainstream had little or no interest in upper spectrum bands and thus giving us the wonderful technology that was approved yesterday!


Are 5G Spectrum Deliberations at the Expense of All Other New Technology?

At tomorrow's monthly Commission meeting the issue of 5G #HighBandSpectrum,as it has been referred to on Twitter, will be discussed and no doubt approved. With the exception of whether satellite licensees in 2 bands have coprimary or secondary status there is no real controversy in Docket 14-177. Yesterday at a House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology hearing Chmn. Wheeler's written testimony contained the following:

We will be repeating the proven formula that made the United States the world leader in 4G: one, make spectrum available quickly and in sufficient amounts; two, give great flexibility to companies that can use the spectrum in expansive ways; and three, stay out of the way of technological development. We will also balance the needs of various different types of uses in these bands through effective sharing mechanisms; take steps to promote competitive access to this spectrum; and encourage the development of secure networks and technologies from the beginning.

These statements are very admirable. But do they mean that 5G is not only FCC's highest goal but its only new technology goal at present — perhaps other than NAB's pet project of ATSC 3.0?

Is FCC interested in making new spectrum available "quickly and in sufficient amounts" for any other types of spectrum licensees - licensed or unlicensed? If 5G gets absolute priority at FCC on spectrum access, what about others needing spectrum that is not even in conflict with 5G spectrum? Are they entitled to consideration of "spectrum quickly and in sufficient amounts" if the request is noncontroversial? Is FCC spectrum policy productivity so low that only one new technology issue can be discussed at a time?

People may forget that the unlicensed ISM bands made available in Docket 81-413 were widely opposed by incumbents, even the predecessor of CEA now CTA, and had almost no corporate support in the rulemaking is now the basis of BOTH Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. There was some participation of predecessors of today's cellular carriers in Docket 94-124 that created the 60 GHz band that in turn stimulated much of the R&D responsible for #HighBandSpectrum 5G and which is about to be expanded in Docket 14-177. But they were focusing on obscure details and seemed mainly interested in computer-to-computer communications, not anything even vaguely resembling 5G. Reagan had a point when he warned against governments "picking winners and losers": Enabling 5G in a timely way should not be at the expense of slowing down all other new radio technologies not in conflict due to bottlenecks in FCC deliberative processes.

We frankly don't know what the "killer apps" technologies will be 10-20 years from now. In my most megalomaniacal phantasies in the early 1980s when I was working on Docket 81-413 I count not imagine how ubiquitous ISM band uses such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth might become. Even the pioneers of 802.11, led by NCR which has never sold consumer electronics, thought they were developing a wireless LAN for wireless PC-based cash registers for department stores. Had they approached FCC with such a request in the absence of the Docket 81-413-developed rules I am sure they would have been politely told to go away. (Indeed, in the 1990s, before the commercial availability of Wi-Fi, Kodak approached FCC several times for a special band for downloading pictures from digital cameras to photo printing machines in camera shops and was told to go away. Ultimately Wi-Fi was capable of this functionality.)

This week UK's Ofcom released a bold NOI-like document on fixed service bands. It included the following text:


By contrast the FCC 5G proceeding has mentioned twice the possibility of other uses of #HighBandSpectrum:


There has been no further action on any uses of spectrum above 95 GHz, let alone above 75 GHz! While Ofcom acknowledges the existence of WRC-19 Agenda Item 1.15 on new allocations in 275-450 GHz, can you find any mention of this on the FCC's voluminous website?

So let's cheer the adoption of the 5G rules this week, but let's also ask whether FCC can now deal with other innovative technologies. Perhaps FCC can even explain how it will implement the provisions of § 7 of the Communications Act? Under the Chevron Doctrine FCC can do that and the courts must give deference, but FCC has given no public guidance on how it deals with new technology in the 30+ years since § 7 was enacted.

All new technologies matter and are entitled to timely consideration.