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FCC ferrets around for spare spectrum

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The FCC is asking for suggestions in the hunt for more radio spectrum, having established that there's not going to be enough to support the next generation of broadband requirements.

The US regulator wants ideas for making better use of all the spectrum below 3.7GHz, and it wants them by 13 November 13. It's asking (pdf) for suggestions on what spectrum should be used for what and how to get hold of it.

The consultation is part of the National Broadband Plan, which has been inviting the industry to say how much radio spectrum it needs. Surprising as it may seem, the industry thinks it needs lots and lots more radio spectrum if it's going to serve customers with the sort of quantities of data it thinks they would like, as the FCC explains:

"According to Wireless Communications Association International (WCAI), a traditional handheld device, with average customer usage patterns, will consume about 30 megabytes of data in a month, a single smart phone consumes 30 times that amount, and a single connected notebook or laptop computer is consuming 450 times that amount."

So you smartphone users out there are already burning through 900MB of data a month, while laptop users are consuming more than 13GB every 30 days or so. That seems like an awful lot to use, though that includes voice traffic.

Still, the FCC is taking those numbers seriously, and it wants to know how much bandwidth you think the wireless industry is going to need. It also wants to know where that spectrum should sit, both for fixed and mobile wireless services, and suggestions to encourage existing users to hand it over for reallocation to wireless broadband.

The FCC has the same problems as the rest of the western world: Huge swathes of the radio spectrum were allocated to governmental and military operations that have no incentive to make use of it or even to keep track of which bits they are actually using.

UK regulator Ofcom's solution is to charge everyone for spectrum usage. Though calculated rates if it can't get the spectrum onto the auction block. But that's not always a good idea (billing lifeboats for radio frequencies is not good PR), so the FCC is hoping the general public can come up with something better.

The regulator is open to suggestions from 23 October until 13 November, and we look forward to hearing what the American on the street has to say on the matter. ®

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