Unlicensed devices, which are permitted to operate under Part
15 (47 C.F.R. Part 15) of the Commission’s rules, have the potential
to bring new and novel applications to rural America. The current Part
15 rules provide substantial flexibility in the types of unlicensed devices
that can be developed, which has led to the large numbers of unlicensed
devices currently available today. This huge and growing product base
includes devices such as baby monitors, garage door openers, cordless
telephones, computer networking equipment, and inventory control systems.
Unlicensed transmitters are permitted to operate on almost any frequency,
provided they operate at very low power levels and meet relatively tight
emission limits in order to avoid interference to licensed radio services.
The devices are not permitted to operate in designated “restricted
bands” identified in Section
15.205, and are generally prohibited from operating in the TV broadcast
In order to highlight the importance of unlicensed devices to the American
lifestyle and economy, the Commission’s Office of Strategic Planning
and Policy Analysis (OSP) and Office of Engineering and Technology (OET)
released OSP Working Paper No. 39, “Unlicensed
and Unshackled: A Joint OSP-OET White Paper on Unlicensed Devices and
Their Regulatory Issues.” The working paper presents a survey
of the history of unlicensed wireless devices, their governing regulation,
an overview of the market for unlicensed devices, and an analysis of the
potential regulatory issues.
The working paper notes that, while unlicensed devices have not generally
been used to provide important communication services, advances in the
reliability and increases in data handling capability have spurred an
interest in incorporating these devices in larger, networked applications.
The working paper observes that a growing number of service providers
are using unlicensed devices within wireless networks to serve the varied
needs of industry, government, and general consumers alike. One of the
more interesting developments is the emergence of wireless Internet service
providers or “WISPs.” Using unlicensed devices, WISPs
around the country are providing an alternative high-speed connection
in areas where cable or DSL services have been slow to arrive. Obviously,
wireless Internet services would be ideal for rural areas.
The current power limitations placed on unlicensed devices may, in some
cases, obviate the option to use them to cover the extended ranges needed
to serve rural communities. A more flexible spectrum use policy for rural
areas may help to foster a viable last mile solution for delivering Internet
services, other data applications, or even video and voice services to
underserved or isolated communities. In this vein, the Commission is developing
a rule making proceeding to explore whether emerging technologies such
as cognitive radio
could identify frequencies that are unused in a local area and make those
frequencies available for unlicensed use; possibly at higher power levels
than are allowed under current rules.
The Commission also has identified a number of areas where unlicensed
devices may be helpful in supplying communication services to rural communities.
Particularly, at this time, the Commission has under consideration a Notice
of Inquiry in ET Docket 03-380 which seeks comments on the feasibility
of allowing unlicensed devices to operate in the TV broadcast spectrum
at locations and at times when spectrum is not being used. The Notice
also seeks comment on the feasibility of permitting unlicensed devices
to operate in other bands, such as the 3650-3700 MHz band, at higher power
levels higher than other unlicensed transmitters with only the minimal
technical requirements necessary to prevent interference to licensed services.
In other activities, the Commission has identified 255 MHz of spectrum
in the 5.470 – 5.725 GHz band that it has proposed to make available
for unlicensed use. In the Notice
of Proposed Rule Making in ET Docket No. 03-122, the Commission has
proposed that this spectrum be made available for use by unlicensed National
Information Infrastructure (U-NII) devices, including Radio Local Area
Networks (RLANs) operating under Part 15 of the FCC’s rules. This
proposal would increase the spectrum available for U-NII devices by 85%.
The Commission stated that the increased available capacity gained from
access to the 255 MHz of additional unlicensed spectrum, coupled with
the ease of deployment and operational flexibility provided by our U-NII
rules, will foster the development of a wide range of new and innovative
unlicensed devices and lead to increased wireless broadband access and
investment. The Commission further noted that this action advances the
policies in the Spectrum Policy Task
Force Report, which specifically recommended that additional spectrum
be provided for unlicensed use.
Finally, we note that unlicensed technology is not limited to wireless
devices. There are also wired unlicensed applications that may prove beneficial
to rural communities. To address this issue, the Commission released a
of Inquiry in ET Docket No. 03-104 to obtain information on a variety
of issues related to Broadband over Power Line (BPL) systems. BPL devices
function by using a house’s electrical power lines as a transmission
medium to provide high speed communications capabilities by coupling RF
energy onto the power line. Because power lines reach almost every community,
BPL could play an important role in providing advanced communication services
such as Internet, video on demand, and telephony to rural communities.
The concept of power line networking has been around for many years. However,
new entrants into the market such as Current
Phonex Broadband, and Amperion
and industry alliances such as HomePlug,
Powerline Communications Association
(PLCA) and United Power Line Council
(UPLC) are expected to spur renewed interest in the technology. The Commission’s
inquiry seeks information and technical data so that we may evaluate the
current state of BPL technology and determine whether changes to Part
15 of the Commission’s rules are necessary to facilitate the broader
development of this technology.