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Four developments this past week illustrate the highs and lows in the difficult battle to migrate American airwaves into the service of wireless broadband, an objective that has been recognized by President Obama, the Federal Communications Commission, and just about everyone who matters inside the Washington beltway as a national imperative. 

  1. The tech sector, including an enthusiastic Cisco, formed the High Tech Spectrum Coalition, dedicated to moving legislation through Congress next year.  Why legislation? Because the FCC needs Congress to give it the authority to conduct voluntary incentive auctions needed to swiftly, efficiently and fairly free up spectrum and put it to work in broadband networks.   Lots of people don’t like that idea, claiming that it could produce a “windfall” to existing licensees.  Properly designed by the FCC, that shouldn’t be a worry.    The Coalition of tech sector trade groups will be the voice of the technology industry in these debates.
  2. The Wireless Broadband Coalition, a group of the nation’s largest service operators including AT&T, Verizon Wireless, and T-Mobile, joined by tech companies including Cisco, sent a letter to President Obama focusing on a different aspect of re-purposing spectrum:  can the federal government do a better job of consolidating its radio spectrum use and making that spectrum available to commercial interests?  The WBC urged the President to ensure that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (within the Department of Commerce) will be adequately resourced for that complex task.   Steve Largent, President and CEO of CTIA, made the same point in a separate letter to the President.   It’s good advice, because agencies like the NTIA must have funding to pay for spectrum planning and relocation of radio services for the federal government. 
  3. The FCC took action on a long-pending docket allowing unlicensed devices to access “TV white spaces” – using unassigned television station frequencies.   While Cisco was not active in this effort, the FCC’s action serves to underscore the importance of marshalling spectrum resources for wireless broadband, and the important role unlicensed spectrum will play.
  4. And finally, industry analyst firm In-Stat this week predicted that Wi-Fi chipsets will reach a total of one billion shipped by 2012, confirming numerous other analyst reports that predict continued rampant growth in the demand for Wi-Fi through 2015, a date which is about as distant as the prognosticators can prognosticate. According to In-Stat, “Not only is Wi-Fi now in nearly every smartphone sold, but in almost every handheld game, tablet, notebook computer, or laptop computer sold.  Throw in a host of new applications including automotive, digital cameras, E-readers, Blu-ray and personal video recorders (not to mention new medical and industrial applications) and with every device, there is a Wi-Fi chipset.”

The spectrum stakes have never been higher, and the campaign for more spectrum for wireless broadband is underway.

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