Thursday 21 February 2008

700MHz for WiMAX: Everything is fair in Love and War

WiMAX was designed for the ISM Band and other bands that were freely available worldwide but suddenly they have realised that they can get a big time break if they can be rolled out in the 700MHz spectrum being auctioned in US.

The Forum, which in the past has assiduously stuck to its guns that it was developing specifications for accepted international spectrum like 2.3, 2.5 and 3.5 GHz, has done an about-face and announced that 700 MHz is a key signpost on its technology road map.

“The market interest has grown considerably recently to the point where the board has decided to give it some high priority and made the announcement today (at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona) that we’re going to be working hard on the technical specifications for the band,” said Tim Hewitt, chairman of the Forum’s regulatory working group.

While the Forum has publicly maintained a low profile about 700 MHz, it “has been keeping an eye on 700 megs for quite some time,” Hewitt said. “There’s a nine-step process we have to go through (and) for some time we’ve been doing this background work on these nine points.”

The next step in the accelerated process is to announce specifications to support both TDD and FDD certification profiles, which, in itself is a bit of focus shift because TDD has previously dominated the organization’s work.

“That was the very strong drive from the market; they wanted these TDD systems,” Hewitt said.

Now the market, both in the U.S. and overseas, wants the combination of FDD and TDD to work with 700 MHz spectrum that’s just becoming available, especially as the FCC auctions off U.S. spectrum being abandoned by broadcasters moving to all-digital delivery.

“There’s an equally important and quite exciting thing under way in the world because the ITU at the recent radio conference identified what we know as the digital dividend spectrum, the UHF spectrum that will become available in many countries when television goes digital,” Hewitt said. “That’s spectrum near 700 MHz.”

The Forum is also looking at WiMAX from a slightly different perspective. while previous efforts included fixed or portable WiMAX based on IEEE 802.16d standards, the profile work within 700 MHz will be strictly 802.16e and especially mobile.

One of the important reasons for going for TDD-FDD combinations I think is due to both LTE and UMB which are its competing technologies support TDD-FDD combination with a possibility of handover between them.

Bidding for regional licenses in the FCC's 700 Mhz auction passed the $19.3 billion mark Tuesday and before the auction concludes total bidding seems likely to hit $20 billion -- double the $10 billion amount that was universally cited as a successful figure before the auction began. And, the total has been reached without significant contribution from the D Block, which was designed to be available for a combination commercial/public safety nationwide network. While bidding for the D Block has dried up, desire for a public safety net definitely hasn't.

See figure above for D Block, etc.

"We now know that only the D Block may not sell in this auction," Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) said in a statement. "The construction of a nationwide, next-generation, interoperable broadband network for public safety is a crucial policy objective, and the need for such a network has not diminished."

As chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Dingell has pushed aggressively for a nationwide public safety network. With valuable D Block spectrum expected to still be available after the auction concludes, the FCC is expected to re-bid at least some of the spectrum using new rules.

Bidding for the C Block has stalled for days, and speculation has grown that Verizon (NYSE: VZ) Wireless placed the leading $4.74 billion bid for the spectrum in the secret auction. Google (NSDQ: GOOG), which had campaigned aggressively to create the spectrum block for interchangeable devices and services, is the likely second bidder for the C Block band.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said recently that he hoped a bidder would emerge for the D Block to improve public safety responses. "If no one steps forward, the commission will have to reevaluate," he told reporters.

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