Are Auctions an Appropriate Way to Allocate Microwave Spectrum?

frequency auction imageRecently the U.S. Congress requested information from the FCC regarding the usage of the 11, 18 and 23GHz microwave point to point bands. This move is seen by many industry watchers as the first step in preparing these bands for auctioning.

Auctioning spectrum is seen by many in the political establishment as a good way of raising large sums of money.  The 3G auctions in Europe raised $30 billion in the U.K. and $45 billion in Germany and although these figures will probably never be reached again, the attraction for governments trying to balance the books in an economic downturn is clear to see. However, these figures were for cellular access spectrum and there is evidence of microwave spectrum auctions being priced too high for operators and no bids being received, e.g. the original 28GHz auction in the U.K during 2000-2002. But even if the bidding process itself is successful, is granting large amounts of spectrum to a single operator the right way to allocate microwave spectrum?

Let’s look a little deeper into how microwave spectrum is used and allocated in most cases today in licensed common carrier frequency bands. An operator wanting to install a microwave link between points A and B would seek to obtain an individual license for that link in that specific location and frequency. This allows others to apply for other frequencies or even the same frequency in different locations.  This approach maximizes use of the available spectrum.

Now let’s look at the block licensing approach. Here a block of spectrum (either on a national or regional basis) is allocated to one user. Block allocations on a regional basis make sense for multipoint applications like fixed wireless access or mobile network applications. However, in the case of point to point (PTP) allocation a block license holder may not have requirements for that entire spectrum, but because it is now their spectrum, no one else can gain access, often resulting in under utilization. This is the situation currently with the 38GHz band in the U.S. and is leading to some in the industry to push for the availability of additional spectrum.

Another example of this is the 28GHz LMDS band, where service take up has been very low, but has effectively blocked out this band from other uses/users. Another concern for the block licensing approach and one that affects equipment vendors is that with fewer operators there are fewer equipment contracts thus leading some manufacturers to be “frozen” out of the market. This will ultimately reduce choice for all and reduce innovation and competition.

Referring back to the announcement, it makes no mention of what would happen to the holders of existing link licenses who will have engineered their networks based upon the current rules. What would happen to these links should that band now be auctioned off as a block? Spectrum auctions also break the U.S. into many smaller regions, with each regional block license being auctioned to the highest bidder. This leads to the question of demarcation and coordination between adjacent regions, particularly for links that may need cross-regional boundaries.

All in all, it would appear that based on evidence to date, auctioning FCC Common Carrier microwave spectrum will be tremendously complicated and likely not in the long term interests of the industry.

Ian Marshall
Regulatory Manager
Aviat Networks

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FCC: New Spectrum for Wireless Backhaul, Relaxed ACM Rules

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On 9 August 2011, the FCC announced several changes to the rules (Part 101) that govern the use of microwave communications in the Fixed Service bands in the U.S. These changes are great news for operators and will be encouraging increased adoption of microwave technology as a wireless transmission alternative to fiber for next generation mobile networks and fixed/private networks.

New Frequency Band for Fixed Services

The FCC opened 650 MHz of new spectrum for Fixed Service (FS) operators in the 6875-7125 MHz and 12700-13100 MHz bands, which will be shared with the incumbent Fixed and Mobile Broadcast Auxiliary Service (BAS) and Cable TV Relay Service (CARS). These bands will primarily be used as an alternative to the 6 and 11 GHz “Common Carrier” bands in rural areas, where the band is not currently licensed to TV mobile pickup stations used in newsgathering operations.

Frequency allocations in these new bands should commence later this year and will be based upon the existing 25MHz channelization. To facilitate adoption, the FCC is also allowing the use of 5, 8.33 and 12.5 MHz channels, as well as 50 MHz channel operation in the 12700-13100 MHz band using two adjacent 25MHz channels.

Allowing Adaptive Modulation

Adaptive Modulation, or AM—or ACM when used with Adaptive Coding—is a relatively recent innovation in microwave technology that allows the radio to dynamically adapt to path conditions to allow a much higher degree of spectrum efficiency, increased wireless link throughput, use of smaller antennas or a combination of all three benefits.

Up until now, the use of AM was restricted by the requirement to comply with FCC spectrum efficiency rules, which dictate a minimum data rate for certain bands. For example in the 6 GHz band a minimum capacity of 130 Mbit/s, or 3xDS3, must be maintained at all times within a 30 MHz channel assignment, using 64QAM modulation. The FCC now allows AM operation where the capacity of the link may drop below the minimum data rate, as long as the operators “design their paths to be available at modulations compliant with the minimum payload capacity at least 99.95 percent of the time,” or in other words, operators will have to “design their paths to operate in full compliance with the capacity and loading requirements for all but 4.38 hours out of the year.”

Aviat Networks, through our membership of the Fixed Wireless Communications Coalition (FWCC), supported rule changes to permit ACM, and the FCC included in its Rulemaking (Clause 48) our analysis on the benefits of ACM in terms of reducing the costs associated with tower leasing:

By way of hypothetical, consider a single link in the 6 GHz band that would require 10-foot antennas with a 99.999 percent standard instead of 6-foot antennas under the 99.95 percent standard. The total cost increase over a 10-year period in this hypothetical example could exceed $100,000.

The smaller antennas offer a number of advantages over larger ones, including more TCO savings over those 10 years.

Still Under Consideration by the FCC

Of all the new proposals being considered, the FCC also announced a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) to further investigate the following proposals:

  • Allowing Smaller Antennas in Certain Part 101 Antenna Standards without materially increasing interference
  • Exempting Licensees in Non-Congested Areas from Efficiency Standards to allow operators to increase link length in rural areas
  • Allowing Wider Channels, including 60 MHz in the 6 GHz band, and 80 MHz in the 11 GHz bands
  • Revising Waiver Standard for Microwave Stations Near the Geostationary Arc to align with ITU regulations
  • Updating Definition of Payload Capacity rules in Part 101 rules to account for Internet Protocol radio systems

Aviat Networks continues to work on these issues, via the FWCC, which we believe will assist operators in lowering their total wireless network operational costs by taking advantage of the newest innovations that are now available in microwave technology.

With these new rules, along with the potential for further changes under consideration, microwave solutions provide an even more compelling case to enable mobile operators in the U.S. to keep pace with the IP mobile backhaul capacity demand driven by the introduction of new 4G wireless/LTE wireless networks.

Ian Marshall
Regulatory Manager, Aviat Networks

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Feds Update Spectrum Release to Relieve Wireless Congestion

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Smartphones such as the HTC Mogul are driving the demand for more wireless spectrum to be released.

To help relieve wireless network congestion, the Obama Administration made a commitment to release up to 500 MHz of spectrum for reuse in commercial wireless solutions. In April 2011, the NTIA updated the progress toward this commitment in its first interim report. This 500 MHz of spectrumcomprising 280 MHz of underused commercial spectrum and 220 MHz of federally owned radio spectrum now administered by the NTIAwould help ease the growing shortage of spectrum as demands on the wireless network rise. This demand is primarily fueled by the explosive adoption rate of smartphones and other mobile broadband devices and the corresponding infrastructure—both access and mobile backhaul—required to support their use.

The timescales and conditions for the availability of this spectrum is in the hands of the FCC and is expected to take about five years as the first part of its 10 year plan. However, the first four blocks of spectrum have recently been identified for release by the NTIA at 1675-1710 MHz, 1755-1780 MHz, 3500-3650 MHz, 4200-4220 MHz and 4380-4400 MHz.

It is estimated that an auction of 500 MHz of spectrum could raise more than $20 billion for the U.S Treasury.

Many wireless technology industry commentators expect the lower bands to be taken up for wireless access. But the higher three bands could be allocated for mobile backhaul use to begin the process of easing congestion in the current 6GHz bands.

The microwave backhaul industry welcomes this first step. We look forward to follow through on further spectrum releasesespecially in the 4 to 8GHz range—which is suitable for high-capacity trunking backhaul.

Ian Marshall
Regulatory Manager, Aviat Networks

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Antennas: Why Size is Important for This Wireless Equipment

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In response to the recent FCC docket 10-153, many stakeholders proposed relaxing antennas requirements so as to allow the use of smaller antennas in certain circumstances. This is an increasingly important issue as tower rental costs can be as high as 62 percent of the total cost of ownership for a microwave solutions link. As these costs are directly related to antenna size, reducing antenna size leads to a significant reduction in the cost of ownership for microwave equipment links.

The Fixed Wireless Communications Coalition (FWCC), of which Aviat Networks is a major contributor, proposed a possible compromise that would leave Category A standards unchanged while relaxing Category B standards. The latter are less demanding than Category A, and after some further easing, might allow significantly smaller antennas. The rules should permit the use of these smaller antennas where congestion is not a problem, and require upgrades to better antennas where necessary.

A further detailed proposal from Comsearch proposed a new antenna category known as B2, which would lead to a reduction in antenna size of up to 50 percent in some frequency bands. This would be a significant cost saving for link operators.

At the present time, the industry is waiting for the FCC to deliberate on the responses to its 10-153 docket, including those on reducing antenna size.

See the briefing paper below for more information.

Ian Marshall
Regulatory Manager, Aviat Networks

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