Unlicensed TV Band Spectrum: Creating a Nimble Framework for Our Economic Future

All of us have experienced the “spectrum crunch” when using our wireless devices. Dropped voice calls and slow data transfers are symptoms. The crunch is a consequence of both rising demand and spectrum management techniques and wireless radio technologies dating back almost one hundred years. We can’t manufacture more spectrum – it’s a finite natural resource – but we can manage it more nimbly and share it more efficiently than we have in the past, stimulating economic growth, business innovation and increased competition.

Unlicensed use of the TV band spectrum can help to achieve this reality. It will enable “super Wi-Fi,” spur rapid innovation, increase the bandwidth available to consumers, expand mobile data offload opportunities, increase hot spot coverage, and ensure greater broadband connectivity, especially in rural communities. As the explosive growth of Wi-Fi has shown, unlicensed spectrum use is a powerful complement to licensed use and, as the predominant amount of traffic moves over unlicensed networks, we must ensure that there is a sufficient and appropriate mix of licensed and unlicensed spectrum allocations.

The spectrum provisions of the Payroll Tax Relief compromise recently negotiated by the House and Senate give the Federal Communications Commission flexibility to enable unlicensed use in the TV bands as it auctions spectrum for licensed use. The agreement ensures that the FCC has the authority to preserve existing vacant channels in the TV band, the “TV white spaces,” implement guard bands and allow unlicensed use there, implement the FCC’s previous white spaces order, and reconfigure the spectrum in order to maximize unlicensed use of the band. The FCC must now build on its 2008 and 2010 decisions promoting unlicensed broadband use in the television bands

Today, companies are building the technologies, products, and applications that rely on unlicensed use of the TV bands. The market opportunity is real. A recent letter to Congress signed by more than 100 companies and industry representatives highlighted the importance of preserving unlicensed use of the TV bands. And the urgency couldn’t be more clear. Like the U.S., countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Europe are exploring the use of TV band white spaces for broadband. If we fail to ensure sufficient spectrum for unlicensed TV band use, we will cede our technology lead to others.

And if we do let others take the lead, they’ll reap the economic rewards as well. In 2009, noted United Kingdom economist Richard Thanki found that just three unlicensed applications (Wi-Fi in the home, wireless in hospitals and RFID technology) created $15 billion to $37 billion in annual economic value. A more recent study by the Consumer Federation of America estimated the economic value of new unlicensed spectrum use at $50 billion annually – an engine of ongoing business opportunity and job creation

As we look forward, the compromise legislation also directs the federal government to study and promote receiver performance and spectrum efficiency, which sets the stage for better, more nimble management of our nation’s finite spectrum resources. As the FCC prepares to auction spectrum for licensed use, it must now seize the opportunity at hand and make sufficient unlicensed spectrum available as well.

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