The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) adopted rules Oct. 16 to promote the development of a new wireless broadband–called “millimeter-wave” or “wireless-optics” technology. This emerging technology can be used for a wide variety of services, the FCC said, including high-speed internet access and point-to-point local area networks.

Schools and colleges, for instance, could use millimeter-wave technology to send large amounts of information between buildings without the need to dig up streets to lay cables.

This technology, which is still under development, is the wireless equivalent of fiber-optic cables, said John Muleta, chief of the FCC’s wireless bureau. He said the technology broadcasts in narrow beams to avoid interference problems.

The technology would operate in a large section of airwaves originally set aside for government use. The spectrum in question–consisting of 71-76 GHz, 81-86 GHz, and 92-95 GHz bands–is the highest ever licensed by the FCC. Recent advances have made consumer and educational uses possible.

“The highly advanced technology used here may encourage a broad range of new products and services,” said FCC Chairman Michael Powell.

Powell said companies might eventually use this technology to compete with high-speed internet services such as cable modems and broadband delivered over telephone lines.

Andrew Kreig, president of Wireless Communication Association International, which represents the wireless broadband industry, said many “great opportunities” will arise from the FCC’s decision to make the spectrum available.

“This is extremely high capacity. It’s basically fiber optics through the air,” Kreig said. “It’s aimed at people who need great quantities of throughput.” For instance, last January ABC TV used this technology to transmit the Super Bowl over high-definition television, he said.

In addition to providing broadband wireless capability equivalent to fiber-optics, this spectrum is ideal for local area networks (LANs) in densely populated areas where wireless interference is a problem, the FCC said.

In lower spectrum bands, the beam is wider so the potential for interference is greater. In the higher spectrum, the beam, with “pencil-beam” characteristics, is narrower and more focused, which means transmitters and receivers can be placed in closer proximity without interference.

This is a line-of-sight technology that transmits signals within a six mile radius, so it is ideal for LANs, experts said.

The FCC plans to issue nationwide licenses to companies seeking to deploy the new service.

The licenses for this spectrum are not being auctioned, the FCC said. Instead, everyone who qualifies under the FCC registration guidelines will be granted a license. Each link that will be used needs to be registered to avoid overlap and interference. The registration process is still under development.


Federal Communications Commission

Wireless Communications Association International