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FCC proposes freeing up massive chunk of wireless spectrum

Cell signal boosters also get revamp

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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is proposing to increase the amount of unlicensed spectrum available by 35 per cent in the biggest opening up of the airwaves in a decade.

The FCC voted unanimously to open 195 megahertz of extra spectrum in the 5 GHz band for use with accredited equipment, but also to allow some of the increasing amount of data traffic on cellular networks to be offloaded onto Wi-Fi. The move should help increase the availability and usefulness of both Wi-Fi and phone networks, and the agency says it wants to move quickly on the plan.

"Because the 5GHz band is already used for other purposes by both federal and non-federal users, the effort will require significant consultation with stakeholders to enable non-interfering shared use of the spectrum," said FCC chairman Julius Genachowski. "But consultation can't be an excuse for inaction or delay."

Genachowski used an address at CES earlier this year to warn that the plans were afoot and has now followed through. The new allocation won't mean that even more spectrum won't be forthcoming later and Genachowski said he was "guided by the President's directive to free up spectrum for commercial use."

In a separate announcement, the FCC said that it is changing the rules on the use of cellular signal boosters after consultation with the four national US mobile carriers. Signal boosters will now be available in consumer and industrial flavors under the new rules.

Consumer boosters will be allowed provided they are built not to cause interference with other services, and the specifications for this have been set down with network operators. Industrial boosters for covering stadia, buildings, and tunnels will also be easier to install and operate under the new rules.

"I am pleased that we have worked with all stakeholders to create a common sense, consensus-based technical solution to mitigate interference risks to wireless networks," said Genachowski.

"The clear rules of the road we adopt today will enhance wireless coverage and public safety communications for consumers, both rural and urban. They're a big part of our answer to dead spots." ®

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