Sep
25

My Take On 700 MHz For WISPs

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I think the idea of using 700MHZ in my network would be very helpful. 900MHZ has worked well in remote areas but the moment you get around a polulated area it becomes useless for WISP. Hopefully 700MHZ will open up for the states soon and I can help more people get connected to wireless internet.

I was asked by a leader in the WISP industry for my views on the soon-to-be-auctioned 700 MHz band as it relates to WISPs and especially WISPs operating in rural areas.


I’ve written about the 700 MHz band several times, most recently in April – 700 MHz Isn’t The End Of Spectrum – It’s Just The Beginning and What “Save Our Spectrum” Doesn’t Understand.


Short answer: I’m skeptical about WISPs being able to make use of 700 MHz; there are a lot of issues with 700 MHz that, in my opinion, generally preclude WISPs from being serious contenders in acquiring 700 MHz licenses.

700 MHz is going to be auctioned – to the highest bidder. That’s mandated to the FCC by Congress, and the anticipated revenues have already been factored into the US Federal Budget. That means  there won’t be any “bidder’s preference” to help WISPs. There are going to be deep pockets bidding for 700 MHz, most purely as a speculative investment without having to build out actual communications systems. Hey, it worked spectacularly for those that won in the previous 700 MHz auctions. While some WISPs have won spectrum auctions (mostly in very rural areas), winning a spectrum auction is only the first part of a long process (see below).700 MHz is turning out to be incredibly contentious. There are two groups competing to have the FCC change the structure of the 700 MHz auctions to aid them in building out national, quasi-public-safety systems. Then there is the issue that the commercial portions of the 700 MHz band will be spectrally “right next door” to public safety portions of 700 MHz, and as we’ve seen with Nextel digital voice systems at 800 MHz, public safety systems seem to be easily interfered with, so commercial (especially broadband) 700 MHz systems will be even more challenged to avoid interference to public safety 700 MHz systems. I think that this means that WISPs aren’t, and can’t, be a significant factor in the 700 MHz auctions.If a WISP does win the bidding for some 700 MHz spectrum, their next challenge is going to be finding Broadband Wireless Internet Access systems for 700 MHz. Most WISPs require low-priced Customer Premise Equipment (CPE) for their business model to work. With 700 MHz, there won’t be much equipment available any time soon, and what little becomes available will likely be expensive, and proprietary. Adapting WiMAX to 700 MHz may help with the proprietary equipment issue, eventually, but it won’t be any time soon.Yet another challenge to WISPs wanting to make use of 700 MHz is that they then have to actually be able to fund the construction of 700 MHz networks. Yes, 700 MHz systems can have improved range and penetration over 2.4 GHz, but building 700 MHz networks is also more of a challenge in many ways. For example, dealing with 700 MHz antennas is a much greater challenge than 2.4 GHz antennas (and even more than 900 MHz antennas) because 700 MHz antennas are physically much bigger (and therefore heavier, and harder to mount on towers and buildings, and thus expensive). It’s also a challenge to “constrain” your 700 MHz system’s coverage to only the geographic area that your license covers; that calls for careful, expensive system design at the edge of your coverage area.In rural areas, WISPs will likely find that they have an unexpected competitor for 700 MHz spectrum – small, rural telephone companies. They have deep (enough) pockets to bid agressively for 700 MHz spectrum, and they can afford the poor economies of proprietary systems (because in rural areas… the economies of scale with wireless are far, far better than that of wireline.) Rural telephone companies may well “hedge their bets” by purchasing 700 MHz spectrum because of the possibilities that subsidies that they rely upon such as the Universal Service Fund and reciprocal (telephone call) compensation may be eliminated in the future, rendering their wireline networks totally unsustainable (financially).700 MHz is radically different than what WISPs are used to. Typically what you would win at a 700 MHz spectrum auction is a single (or paired) 6 MHz channel for a very specific area. A 700 MHz service provider has to be very careful not to “bleed over”, both spectrally, and geographically, to another service provider’s 700 MHz allocation. Not to mention that there is the challenge of nighttime “skip” (formally, tropospheric ducting) that occurs at VHF and UHF frequencies during the summer months.

Overall, I think that “lusting after” 700 MHz is the wrong “fight” for WISPs for more effective spectrum to serve their customers. Instead, I think that WISPA and other WISP-related organizations should be leading the fight for license-exempt access to television broadcasting “white spaces” – using television broadcast channels (that remain for that use after the transition to digital television broadcasting on February 17, 2009). Yes, WISPA is “involved” in the white spaces issue, but its efforts have been clouded (nowhere near transparent) by its mysterious participation with companies such as Microsoft and Intel.


Another “fight” that WISPs should be working on instead of 700 MHz is the proposed 3.65 – 3.70 GHz band (or, 3650). This band was proposed for, and optimized for, the specific requirements of WISPs. Some preliminary equipment is already available for “3650” because it was a minor adaptation from existing equipment that operates in the 3.5 GHz band in use nearly everywhere in the world except the US.


All of that said, this year’s 700 MHz auctions are going to be very interesting to observe. There are many, many factions (some who have yet to “uncloak”) that will be competing for 700 MHz spectrum.


 


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