The FCC is quietly taking steps that could make fixed-wireless broadband services more viable--and more attractive to users--than ever before.
In an address to the FCC Wireless Broadband Forum, chairman Michael Powell said achieving universal broadband service by 2007 is "the central communication policy objective of the era." Although President George W. Bush focused on DSL and cable when he announced his broadband plan last April, Powell indicated that fixed-wireless service will also play a key role in the administration's strategy. Increasing the availability of wireless broadband gives consumers a "Holy Grail" of three broadband alternatives, Powell said, letting "magical things happen in competitive markets."
Delivering cost-effective wireless broadband will require technology improvements and more radio spectrum. On the technical front, the WiMax Forum is promoting the IEEE's 802.16 standard as the foundation for affordable and interoperable broadband product offerings that won't be constrained by the line-of-site requirements of older technologies. Products are just now hitting the market, and it will be some time before the bugs are eradicated and prices come down.
The best wireless technology is worthless without adequate radio spectrum. That's why the FCC is proposing ways to manage the spectrum, outlined in a panel discussion at the recent Wireless Communication Association conference. One strategy is to put the unlicensed 5-GHz band to greater use. Wi-Fi radios that can operate in this spectrum are available and can be adapted to provide low-cost fixed-wireless services.
A second initiative involves more flexible regulation of 190 MHz of choice spectrum in the 2.5-GHz MDS and ITFS bands, which were allocated for educational TV services. Sprint and MCI bought licenses for the spectrum and deployed first-generation MMDS data services some time ago, but neither the technology nor the market was ready. Now, with new technology available and more flexible regulation on the horizon, wireless broadband may have a chance.