Demand for broadband services to unserved or underserved rural communities has been a topic among governments worldwide for more than two decades. While there has been some government funding directed toward rural connectivity in prior years, the global COVID-19 pandemic has increased the urgency to close the digital divide.
Aviat’s new service offering helps you quickly find and address interference issues to protect your network. Aviat’s FAS (Frequency Assurance Software) offers sophisticated, well-tested monitoring and analysis of unlicensed 6 GHz—and can trigger corrective action to protect link stability.
Our free Aviat Design tool is continually being enhanced to make your link design as smooth and efficient as possible. We are certain you will find these new features useful. Take a look at them below, or better yet – sign in or register for Aviat Design today to take the new feature for a spin at www.aviatcloud.com.
For more than two years now, the FCC has been evaluating the necessity and feasibility of opening up the 6 GHz band to unlicensed users of a wide variety of devices. They’ve published multiple notices of their findings, and on April 2, 2020, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai issued a draft version of the official rules, allowing unlicensed operation in the 6 GHz band—over the entire 1,200 MHz spectrum of that band. A final vote on April 23 opened the door to Wi-Fi 6e.
Hot on the heels of the FCC’s announcement to open the 6 GHz band to unlicensed radios, we recently announced the launch of our new FCC Licenses Layer feature. Our new FCC Licenses Layer will allow users to overlay a layer with existing FCC licenses around one site within a radius. The feature will show users what spot frequencies are available in the area where they want to deploy their microwave links. Sign in or register for Aviat Design today to take the new feature for a spin. www.aviatcloud.com
Point-to-point microwaves links are the de facto standard for connecting infrastructure over vast distances quickly and cost-effectively. Lower frequencies, like 6 GHz, allows a network to span long distances with high capacity while maintaining robust availability, especially during rain fade. These characteristics have led to rapid, widespread adoption with more than 40000 links in the 6 GHz frequency band deployed across the US.
As many readers are aware, the FCC issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) regarding RLAN operation within the 6 GHz bands. Over the last two and a half years, the FWCC has dedicated itself to protecting fixed links from t in these bands. Understandably so, this is especially important given the diversity of fixed link users in the 6 GHz bands; among others, utility companies, oil and gas companies, and local government agencies, including those dealing with public safety, have large numbers of 6 GHz links that perform unique and crucial tasks. There are approximately 97,000 fixed links in the 6 GHz bands.
By Randy Jenkins, Director, Business Development
Commercial mobile networks in the US are morphing into critical infrastructure as homeowners abandon their landline phones and rely instead on their mobile phones. Critical alerts, evacuation information, and family reconnections are relying on mobile networks in times of disasters. Unfortunately, those are exactly the times that the mobile network infrastructure is most severely tested and in recent past has shown it cannot stand up to the rigors of these disasters. The US Federal Government (FCC) and state/regional entities are looking at ways to limit the impacts of these disasters.
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.
In the mobile operator space in many countries, the national regulators are imposing so-called “buildout requirements” as a license condition on many wireless providers. In some countries, these requirements are restricted to licenses awarded by the auction process (e.g., cellular access spectrum) or block allocations while in others these conditions are attached to the majority of licenses.
Where buildout requirements are employed, a license typically has a clause that requires the licensee to build out a network/link or specified portion of a network within a certain period of time, with penalties imposed for failure to do so.
The rationale behind imposing these requirements is to ensure that after spectrum is assigned it is put to its intended use without delay. By doing this, or so the theory goes, bidders are discouraged from acquiring spectrum with the sole intent of blocking competitors’ activities without themselves offering service. Of course, the ultimate goal is the protection of spectrum—a finite and precious resource. There is no reason buildout requirements cannot be attached to any license grant, assuming that the detail of the requirements recognizes any constraints of the application for which the spectrum is sought.
Nevertheless, Aviat Networks is strongly against auctions and block allocations, but where these are a necessity then buildout requirements must be part of any award, with strong enforcement rules. The problem is that with strong enforcement operators and regulators can be at loggerheads and get tied up in court with lawsuits and countersuits for years. For example, in the U.S. you have the case of Fibertower. The FCC claims that Fibertower deliberately underbuilt its network and so moved to revoke its spectrum licenses. With the regulator moving against the operator, it came under insurmountable financial pressure and filed for bankruptcy. But even now, the operator’s creditors are fighting the FCC in order to recoup frequencies valued at more than US$100 million. So it is questionable whether this actually works in practice.
Microwave is the point
Focusing on point-to-point microwave, let’s examine the approach taken in two different countries. In the United States, for traditional link-by-link allocation, the FCC imposes an 18-month deadline by which time the link in question needs to be in service. However, in the United Kingdom, Ofcom imposes no such deadline. For certain applications, certain routes and sites are critical and can quickly become “full.” If these key locations are being filled by license applications that are not being translated into operational services, then this spectrum is effectively wasted as no one else can use it, nor is there any service being offered. Spectrum wasted in this manner reduces overall spectrum efficiency, and all spectrum authorities are motivated to ensure that spectrum is used in the most efficient way possible.
Of course having these rules is fine, but what happens when the rules are breached? In some cases, an operator will apply for an extension prior to the expiration of the original deadline; this may or may not be granted. However, the real test is what happens when the deadline passes. Ideally, what should happen is that the license(s) in question would be revoked and the associated spectrum made available for reallocation. Furthermore, if the spectrum in question was originally made available by block allocation or auction, then again, ideally, this spectrum should be returned to the pool of spectrum available for link-by-link licensing.
Additionally in shared bands, i.e., spectrum shared by the Fixed Service (FS) and the Fixed Satellite Service (FSS) should be governed by the same requirements in this instance. Therefore, unused/defunct FSS allocations/licenses should also be revoked with the spectrum being made available for reuse. In the case of FSS locations, this can have a significant effect owing to the geographic full-arc protection area that is usually associated with earth stations.
The alternative viewpoint is that the current buildout requirements are counterproductive, in their aim to foster efficient use of spectrum. One reason cited for this view is that it takes time for an equipment supply ecosystem to develop, which will serve the spectrum users. However, when we examine this claim more carefully, it seems that this is often used where the spectrum has been awarded to a single user either by block allocation or by auction. We have written before about how auctions and block allocations are unsuitable for point-to-point microwave, and the claim above is a direct result of this process, which negatively impacts the number of operators. In turn, that reduces the ranks of equipment vendors, leading to thinner competition and, therefore, decreased incentive for innovation. This situation is made worse if the operator in question chooses a band plan that is nonstandard in terms of either existing U.S. or international arrangements.
In the final analysis, it does not serve any stakeholders’ goals to have valuable spectrum allocated but unutilized. Thus, having buildout requirements would appear to be a good idea. But along with that, an effective mechanism for reclaiming and making available to others spectrum that runs afoul of these rules is paramount to making the process work for the Greater Good. In Aviat’s view, buildout requirements are a valuable tool in ensuring spectrum efficiency and as such, their use should be seriously considered in all countries.
In the United States, the fixed service for wireless communications usually operates in bands licensed either on a link-by-link basis or by block allocation. So why is the 5.8GHz ISM band so important and why should the industry be concerned about current FCC proposals to change the rules of operation in this band.
Many operators use this band because they can install and operate a link in a very short period—much quicker than the usual route of prior coordination and license application that is required in other bands. There are numerous reasons why this approach is attractive, even if it is difficult to guarantee Quality of Service (QoS) in ISM. A common use of this approach sees the operator set up a link in the 5.8GHz band to get the link up and running while in parallel it goes through the coordination process for the same link in the L6GHz band. Then when that license is granted, the operator will move the link to the L6GHz band. This has the advantage that the same antenna may be reused and sometimes the same radio with just a filter change. Another use of the 5.8GHz band for fixed service links is in support of disaster relief efforts where because there is no need for prior coordination that means vital communications links can be up and running very quickly.
Under the current FCC Part 15 rules, equipment can be certified using section 15.247 whereby the above scenarios are attractive to operators as they mimic the conditions that can be found in the L6GHz band. However, the FCC has issued a notice of proposed rulemaking, NPRM, which will change this by requiring a reduction in conducted output power of 1dB for every dB of antenna gain over 23dBi for Part 15.247 point-to-point links. At present, the conducted power at the antenna port in this frequency range is limited to 1 watt, but there is no penalty applied to the conducted power in relation to higher gain antennas on point-to-point links. Should this proposal by finalized then this would reduce the effective range of point-to-point links in this band and would so change the dynamics that the ability to deploy a link in the 5.8GHz band and then “upgrade” to the L6GHz band at a later date would no longer be a feasible option. We would encourage all readers, especially those using the 5.8GHz band to file a comment with the FCC regarding Proceeding 13-49 that this particular change would be detrimental to many fixed link operators, as well as those who rely on this band for fast deployment during disaster recovery.
For more information on this proceeding, email Aole Wilkins at the Office of Engineering and Technology.
Competitive licensing of fixed microwave backhaul bandwidth is a bad idea. And it should not go any further. The reasons why are laid bare in a new article in IEEE Spectrum by former electrical engineer and current telecom law firm partner Mitchell Lazarus. In general, he argues against federal spectrum auctions for microwave frequencies, and in particular for fixed microwave links. Undoubtedly, readers are familiar with the large cash bounties governments around the world have netted from competitive bidding on cellular bandwidth—first 3G and now 4G. An inference can be drawn from Lazarus’ article that some governments (i.e., the United States, the United Kingdom) had in mind a similar, if perhaps smaller, revenue enhancement through competitive auctions of microwave channels.
The problem lies in the fallacious thinking that operating fixed point-to-point wireless backhaul bandwidth is comparable to that of mobile spectrum. Whereas mobile spectrum license holders can expect to mostly—if not fully—use the frequencies for which they have paid top dollar, the same has not historically been true of license holders of microwave backhaul bandwidth. In most cases, mobile license holders have a virtual monopoly for their frequencies on a national, or at least regional, basis. Their base stations send and receive cellular phone signals omnidirectionally. They expect throughput from any and all places. So they have paid a premium to make sure no competitors are on their wavelengths causing interference.
On the other hand, U.S. holders of microwave backhaul licenses have specific destinations in mind for the operation of their point-to-point wireless networks. They only need to communicate between proverbial Points A and B. And, historically, they have only sought licenses to operate in their particular bandwidth on a particular route. They had no need to occupy all of their licensed frequency everywhere. That would be a waste. They just have to make sure they have a clear signal for the transmission paths they plan to use. To do that, before licensing, they would collaborate with other microwave users in the vicinity and a frequency-coordination firm to establish an interference-free path plan. Any conceivable network issues would usually be resolved at this stage prior to seeking a license from the Federal Communications Commission. Essentially, the FCC is just a glorified scorekeeper for fixed microwave services, passively maintaining its transmitter location license database.
But starting in 1998, with dollar signs in their eyes, governmental spectrum auctioneers started to sell off microwave frequencies in block licenses. The need for fixed microwave wireless services then was growing and has only grown fiercer with each additional iPhone and iPad that has been activated. However, access device throughput demand on one side of a base station does not necessarily fully translate all the way to the backhaul. Lazarus points out the example of now defunct FiberTower and its failure to make block microwave licenses work economically. After buying national block microwave backhaul licenses at 24 and 39 GHz, Lazarus notes, the firm resold the frequencies to Sprint and a county 911 emergency network operator. But those were the only customers. Lacking a robust enough utilization of its licensed backhaul frequencies, FiberTower had several hundred of its licenses revoked by the FCC and was forced into bankruptcy November 2012.
Subsequent auctions have attracted far fewer bidders and generated much less income for the Treasury Department. Much bandwidth has lain fallow as a result. And infrastructure buildout has stagnated.
Regulators should return the microwave backhaul licensing process to that of letting wireless transmission engineers cooperate informally among themselves, with the help of frequency-coordination firms, to arrive at fixed point-to-point wireless plans in the public interest. These are then submitted only for maintenance by the FCC or other regulators for traditionally nominal license fees—currently $470 per transmitter site for 10 years in the U.S., per Lazarus.
Forget the quixotic quest for chimerical hard currency. The commonweal demands it. You should demand it of the regulators—you can still give input regarding this scheme in some jurisdictions where it is under consideration. Clearly, the most efficient use of spectrum is to make it openly available to all because it means that every scrap of commercially useful spectrum is picked clean. We welcome your comments pro or con.