Rumor: FCC preparing to set aside channel 37, other 600 MHz spectrum for unlicensed use

The FCC is reportedly prepared to set aside channel 37 as well as other spectrum located throughout the 600 MHz band for unlicensed wireless broadband use.

In a blog post, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler confirmed that he has circulated a draft Report and Order to his fellow commissioners, laying out plans for the 600 MHz broadcast TV spectrum incentive auction. Following their review of the draft rules, the commissioners are expected to officially propose them on May 15, setting the stage for the incentive auctions of broadcast TV spectrum to begin in mid-2015.

"As part of the Incentive Auction process, we will also make available on a nationwide basis spectrum for unlicensed use (think Wi-Fi). With the increased use of Wi-Fi, this spectrum has also become congested. Opening up more spectrum for unlicensed use provides economic value to businesses and consumers alike," Wheeler wrote.

He did not provide specifics of the proposal. However, Re/code reported that channel 37, which is used today for radio astronomy and medical telemetry, would be set aside for unlicensed broadband use. It noted the commission will likely impose restrictions to protect medical telemetry devices.

Re/code also said a "senior FCC official" confirmed that the total amount of spectrum assigned for use by unlicensed devices could range from 12 megahertz to 20 megahertz.

The range is uncertain because, aside from channel 37, the spectrum that would be provided for unlicensed use will be located in guard and duplex bands. The final number of those bands and their geographic availability will depend upon which broadcasters opt to participate in the voluntary reverse auction, in which the FCC will pay broadcasters to give up 600 MHz spectrum.

Because much of the spectrum that might be opened for unlicensed use would sit in vacant spaces between TV and broadband services, it would have to be managed in the same manner as current TV white space (TVWS) spectrum, whose rules require devices to contact an authorized TVWS database and ensure channel availability and other operating parameters so they will not interfere with TV broadcast operations.

The FCC's draft proposal is not likely to sit well with unlicensed advocates such as Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), which have lobbied the commission to open four 6 MHz-wide channels in the 600 MHz band on a nationwide basis.

Last month, Google requested the FCC set aside for unlicensed use any guard band separating broadcast and LTE licensees; any duplex gap separating LTE uplink and downlink operations; reserved wireless microphone channels on a shared basis with wireless microphone users; and channel 37 on a shared basis with medical telemetry and radio astronomy users.

Another of those pushing for the four-channel set-aside, Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Project at the New America Foundation, met on April 14 with David Goldman, legal advisor to Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. Calabrese made the visit on behalf of on the Public Interest Spectrum Coalition (PISC).

He wrote in an ex parte filing that the "incentive auction team's reported recommendations, apparently designed solely to maximize auction revenue, represent an unbalanced and misguided approach" and would "kill off" the commission's longstanding goal to facilitate national markets for unlicensed innovation and connectivity in the 600 MHz spectrum.

For more:
- see this FCC blog post
- see this Re/code article
- see this GigaOM article
- see this New America Foundation filing

Related articles:
FCC's Wheeler lays out vision for 3.5 GHz band, incentive auctions
FCC's Rosenworcel looks to 5 GHz band, 600 MHz guard bands for unlicensed wireless
WiFiForward adds ballast to demand for unlicensed spectrum
Broadway concerned about losing 600 MHz TV white space spectrum
Hospitals worry about white space interference