3.5 GHz Eyed for ‘Spectrum Superhighway’ Site

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski announced plans to initiate formal steps on spectrum recommendations from the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST)before the end of this year, including small cell use in the 3.5 GHz band.

 The recommendations in Report to the President – Realizing the Full Potential of Government-Held Spectrum to Spur Economic Growth support an observation I've made before that for urban areas, where spectrum is most scarce, spectrum above 1 GHz is the most valuable. The Report emphasizes the value of small cell sizes, something difficult to achieve with lower frequencies such as those used for UHF TV broadcasting. 

While the UHF TV frequencies have been touted as “beach front property,” the PCAST report says, “We strongly recommend that the spectrum from 2700 to 3700 MHz be priorities as the basis for the Nation's first spectrum superhighway.”

The Report refutes the perception that spectrum below 1 GHz is best: “Typically, bands in the range of 100 MHz to 1 GHz have been considered to have the highest economic value because they have high propagation range, building penetration, weather and atmospheric performance, and power efficiency. However, bands in the range of 1 to 5 GHz, although they offer lower performance on those parameters, offer better bit capacity for data rich applications, not only because the channels can be wider, but because they offer better reuse. They also require smaller antennas to match the more local nature of the applications.”

As I've stated previously, by the time the FCC completes the incentive auctions, the major value of the UHF TV spectrum to wireless carriers will be to eliminate competition to their plans to offer pay video services over broadband spectrum. While UHF frequencies have value in providing reliable wireless broadband in rural areas, there are also fewer TV stations in these areas and more opportunity for using UHF TV spectrum without compromising free TV coverage. In congested areas, where UHF TV spectrum is fully occupied, frequencies above 1 GHz, as the PCAST Report notes, are much more suitable. 

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.