It now seems inevitable that license-exempt communications spectrum, broadly using the Wi-Fi model, will become a more-important part of the overall communications business, even if additional licensed spectrum continues to be made available.
It also seems nearly inevitable that new ways of sharing already-licensed spectrum between primary license holders and secondary commercial users, will become more important.
There are important business model implications. Any business model based on spectrum scarcity value will find the scarcity value is lessened. Mobile service providers provide one clear example.
On the other hand, more license-exempt spectrum also will provide advantages for all users of communications spectrum, mobile and untethered or fixed, especially as the ability to use any available spectrum or network becomes a basic building block of all wireless access platforms.
One immediate task is gaining global agreement, to the extent possible, on clearing many of those frequency bands for communications use, and setting rules about which frequencies will be used on a licensed basis, and which on a license-exempt basis.
Flexibility in use of millimeter wave spectrum is the object of a U.S. Federal Communications Commission proposed rulemaking. Up to this point, one immediate focus has been authorizing spectrum in the 5-GHz region for license-exempt purposes.
The new proposed rulemaking focuses on a number of bands above 24 GHz for mobile broadband and other license-exempt uses.
As with most major developments in communications technology, the new rulemaking is related to fifth generation mobile networks as well as license-exempt applications and spectrum.
The new proposed rulemaking covers a number of frequencies the FCC hopes will be globally harmonized by perhaps 2019, including the 27.5 GHz-29.5 GHz bands; 37 GHz-40.5 GHz bands; 47.2 GHz-50.2 GHz bands; 50.4 GHz-52.6 GHz bands; and the 59.3 GHz-71 GHz bands.
“We are leveraging regulatory advances and propose to use market-based mechanisms that will allow licensees to provide any service – fixed, mobile, private, commercial, and satellite – depending on the band, and allow unlicensed uses to continue to expand,” said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.
Those new frequencies are known as millimeter wave and have, up to this point, been largely unusable commercially. The difference now is that cheap, powerful computer processing and storage makes commercial uses possible where older analog technology was unfeasible.