Back in April the telecom experts over at CommLawBlog weighed in on a simmering issue in the 70-80GHz radio space. Since October 2012, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has mulled over a motion by the Fixed Wireless Communications Coalition (FWCC) to relax rules for flat panel antennas as well as a 2013 waiver to the existing rules while it considers a new rulemaking.
Lack of taking any action on any of these filings has left the backhaul industry in a quandary. With viable radio solutions ready to deploy in the 70-80 GHz frequency ranges, the only holdup has been a technical requirement that FCC rules place on the radiation pattern of the very thinnest of flat panel antennas. These rules were originally formulated for an era where microwave radios were used for links that spanned 1 to 5 kilometers.
In the new urban reality for small cells, the distances between mobile base stations will be measured in hundreds of meters. At these lengths, the radiation patterns of flat panel antennas will not materially increase interference, to paraphrase language the FCC itself has used previously when approving use of smaller antennas in the 6, 18 and 23 GHz bands, circa 2012.
With small cell wireless in close-in city settings, both mobile and non-mobile subscribers have a heightened sense of awareness, and they will take extra notice of backhaul radios with prominent parabolic dishes that stick out like sore thumbs. With their figurative and literal low profiles, flat panel antennas provide the critical missing link in ameliorating the aesthetics concerns that many feel toward old, bulky microwave installs. While these hulking communications devices were fine on towers at long haul sites way out by the interstate freeway or high atop skyscrapers in the heart of the business district, when they are situated on the side of a residential building the modern-day urbanite will not tolerate these telecom equipment eyesores.
In reality, there is very little for the FCC to decide upon. While the telecom regulator here in the United States has its own rules, regulators in much of the rest of the world use the ETSI standards. Actually, the standard in effect is of little consequence. The point of fact is that the flat panel antennas in question before the FCC have been approved for use in all these ETSI countries without any significant drawbacks being reported in nearly three years of use. Even the FCC’s companion agency to the north, Industry Canada, has given tentative go-ahead to flat panel antennas for use with 70-80GHz backhaul radios, with the implicit understanding that they will receive formal approval if no unforeseen snags occur in final rule drafting.
So while the rest of the small cell community enjoys a flat panel world, the U.S. is walking a tightrope of red tape in hopes that some decision is made—soon.
Full disclosure: Aviat Networks is the filer of the 2013 waiver request and is a member of the Fixed Wireless Communications Coalition. Aviat Networks is legally represented by Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth, PLC, the host of CommLawBlog.