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FCC to unleash unlicensed spectrum, relieve 'Wi-Fi traffic jam'

Shared-spectrum scheme with the Department of Defense

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CES 2013 The US Federal Commnicatioons Commission has announced plans to open up a chunk of unlicensed spectrum to relieve the "Wi-Fi traffic jam," according to FCC chairman Julius Genachowski.

"We're announcing today that we're moving to free up a substantial amount of spectrum for Wi-Fi to relieve Wi-Fi congestion and improve Wi-Fi speeds at conferences and airports and ultimately in people's homes," Genachowski said at CES 2013 on Wednesday.

Genachowski said that there has been plenty of talk – and action – about the licensed-spectrum crunch, seeing as how spectrum needs to be freed to satisfy Americans' insatiable thirst for broadband data access on their smartphones and tablets. But Wi-Fi needs some love, as well.

"There's also a Wi-Fi traffic jam," he said, "and anyone who's been to conferences and airports knows that it's true. And when you see what's going on on the [CES 2013 show] floor, and you see how much more video that wants to travel over Wi-Fi networks, you realize that we've got to do something about this."

The spectrum that will be freed up is in the 5GHz band, and is currently in use by the US government, namely the US Department of Defense and other agencies. "As in other areas," Genakowski said, "we are convinced the spectrum can be shared."

As one example of such sharing, he cited the Commission's unanimous approval last year of "mobile body area networks", or MBANs, that hospitals use to wirelessly connect patients to sensors and other equipment. The spectrum that WBANs use will be shared with that used by a government agency – "I think it's air telemetry," Genachowski said, "but I could be wrong."

The new Wi-Fi spectrum won't magically appear tomorrow, however. "We have a lot of work to do on this," he said, "particularly with the federal agencies that have the spectrum, but it's going to be a terrific example of spectrum sharing when we get it done."

Genachowski said that there has already been work done on defining the parameters of freeing up the new Wi-Fi spectrum, but the FCC doesn't want to wait. "We're moving forward at a Commission proceeding next month," he said, "because we don't want to wait until we've worked out every problem and say, 'Okay, now we've done it.' We're moving forward with it, and we're going to work out the problems as we go."

Promises of more spectrum are all well and good, but exactly how much spectrum is Genachowski talking about? "We believe we can increase the amount of 5GHz spectrum for Wi-Fi by 35 per cent," he said. "If that number's wrong I'll stand corrected." ®

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