FCC looks set to go ahead with plan for free US wireless network
Published: 13 October, 2008
Most innovative approaches to improving broadband availability across the US come up against opposition from cellcos pleading interference fears, and such claims have dogged the FCC's proposal to create a national free wireless service in the 'AW-3' band. This would auction a 25MHz swathe on condition that the winner offers a free, nationwide internet service. Opposition has been led by T-Mobile, which is just rolling out its 3G networks in the AWS spectrum it acquired in 2006.
Late last week, FCC engineers reported that, according to results of their tests, fears of interference with existing networks were "overblown". This report seems to clear the way for the regulator to confirm its plan for an auction in early to mid-2009. The network would have to reach 50% of the US population in four years and 95% within a decade.
This was bad news for T-Mobile, whose spectrum, for which it paid $4bn, joins the AW-3 band. FCC engineers said recent tests in Seattle showed the airwaves could be used for a wireless broadband service "without a significant risk of harmful interference".
Other opposition to the FCC plan has come from some other wireless companies and politicians, who claim the scheme favors M2Z Networks, a start-up backed by VC firm Kleiner Perkins and led by former FCC chief John Muleta, which came up with the free network idea two years ago. It originally petitioned to have the 25MHz automatically awarded, without auction, but the FCC denied this, saying other companies also had their own proposals for creating free services.
Like earlier attempts to boost internet availability through unlicensed networks, such as Wi-Fi metrozones, M2Z's plan would look to fund build-out through advertising and through subscriptions for premium services.
Last week, Intel joined the debate over AWS-3, calling on the FCC to guarantee it would not change the proposed interference protections that T-Mobile is opposing. Doing so, Intel argued, could have a negative impact on the deployment of WiMAX in the TDD band.
T-Mobile has submitted to the FCC a statistical analysis that concluded the "probability of call failure is greater than 60% for AWS-1 users with AWS-3 routers in their homes and nearly 30% if their neighbor is operating an AWS-3 router."