In Business Model, Internet Access, Mobile, Spectrum, Spectrum Futures Conference

In an unprecedented move, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission is making available an extraordinary amount of new spectrum–including seven gigaHertz (7 GHz) worth of unlicensed spectrum, in the millimeter wave bands, and a total of 11 GHz, including 3.85 GHz of licensed spectrum, in a first wave.

Keep in mind that the new allocations represent many times more spectrum than all other existing spectrum now available for mobile and wireless communications in the U.S. market. Just how much more depends on one’s assumptions about coding techniques and modulation.

But it is possible the new spectrum will represent an order of magnitude or two orders of magnitude more communications spectrum than presently is available for mobile and wireless communications purposes.

Consider that U.S. Wi-Fi spectrum is counted in the low hundreds of MHz, while mobile spectrum might be counted in the 500 MHz to 600 MHz range. Using just those two metrics, and not accounting for sophisticated modulation techniques, the new FCC spectrum represents, at minimum, about 30 times the amount of all Wi-Fi and mobile spectrum combined.

And that is before we take into account the modulation techniques. That means effective throughput is a multiple of the raw amount of spectrum. It isn’t hard to derive an estimate of two orders of magnitude more throughput, using the new millimeter wave spectrum.

So, as a practical matter (because the higher frequencies can carry much more data than lower frequencies), the new millimeter unlicensed spectrum arguably represents much more access spectrum than presently allocated for all other mobile, Wi-Fi and fixed wireless purposes.

Nor is that all. The Commission also adopted a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which seeks comment on rules adding another 18 GHz of spectrum encompassing eight additional high-frequency bands, as well as spectrum sharing for the 37 GHz to 37.6 GHz band.

That means a total of about 29 GHZ of new communications spectrum, available for mobile and untethered use, will eventually be coming to market.

The new rules create a new “Upper Microwave Flexible Use” service in the 28 GHz (27.5-28.35 GHz), 37 GHz (37-38.6 GHz), and 39 GHz (38.6-40 GHz) bands, and a new unlicensed band at 64 GHz to 71 GHz.

Altogether, that will make nearly 11 GHz of high-frequency spectrum for flexible, mobile and fixed use wireless broadband, including 3.85 GHz of licensed spectrum and 7 GHz of unlicensed spectrum.

These rules will support unlicensed, licensed and shared access. That, and the fact that so much new spectrum is being made available, will have business model implications for quite a number of ecosystem participants. To the extent that spectrum scarcity is a source of business advantage, or a barrier to competitor entry, that will be less of an issue.

The availability of so much new unlicensed spectrum should make possible new business models for Internet service providers, who will not have to pay for spectrum.

The millimeter era is coming, and it will upend current business models and market structures. Those issues will be discussed at the Spectrum Futures conference in Singapore, Oct. 20 and 21, 2016.

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