FCC approves new spectrum sharing model

The Federal Communications Commission on Friday approved a new approach to open up commercial access to spectrum, which is required for use with mobile and other Internet-connected devices. 

The plan would open up more airwaves in the 3.5 gigahertz airwave band, by sharing it between federal agencies like the Defense Department and commercial users. That differs from other spectrum plans, in which the commission auctions off whole bands of government spectrum.  

ADVERTISEMENT
Some commissioners called the rules a "paradigm shift" in opening up access to airwaves — a large priority for the commission as demand for spectrum grows with the ubiquity of smartphones and other connected devices. Other commissioners expressed more skepticism. 

The rules were approved in a 5-0 vote, with some commissioners concurring in part. 

Much of the spectrum at issue Friday is currently owned by the Defense Department for radar use. Exclusion zones, which have substantially shrunk since the first rules were proposed, have been created around the coast and other military installments to protect that use.

The FCC said new technology would allow for the sharing of spectrum between three groups: Incumbents like the military that already use it, priority access users for mobile phones, and a general access similar to unlicensed spectrum, on which Wi-Fi operates. 

"Two thirds of the 150 megahertz we make available today was previously unavailable for consumer use and commercial use because it was locked up by a single user, the Defense Department," FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said. 

He added that the rules Friday were helped along by new technology that can act like "spectrum traffic cops" to allow the sharing model. He also complimented the Defense Department's "new enlighten approach to spectrum policy."

Commissioner Ajit Pai called the new rules an experiment. He cautioned that it remains to be seen if the commission can "turn today's spectrum theory into a working reality."

Wheeler said he would release a public notice in the next 30 days to seek public comment on developing standards for the use of the spectrum.

"We are hopeful that when the FCC issues the Public Notice, it focuses on encouraging and promoting new uses of all bands, and efficient technologies, like LTE-U. As supporters of both Wi-Fi and LTE-U, we would be concerned with any steps the FCC would take that would interject a regulatory agency into standards settings process or attempt to influence that process," CTIA-The Wireless Association said in a statement.