FCC decision protects military spectrum use

FCC decision protects military spectrum use

The Federal Communications Commission has struck an accord with the Defense Department, approving the use of the ultra-wideband radio frequency above 3.1 GHz to advance wireless communications without harming critical, spectrum-dependent military systems.

In a unanimous vote on Feb. 14, FCC commissioners signed off on limited use of three types of ultra-wideband devices. The commissioners said the technology would improve public safety and enhance business applications.

Despite the benefits, ultra-wideband technology for imaging, vehicular radar and communications systems could interfere with other systems, so FCC said it used caution in establishing technical standards and operating restrictions.

The commission will revisit the issue in six to 12 months and will decide then whether to approve more flexible standards or allow other types of devices to operate in the bands.

The FCC vote lets UWB communications devices operate between 3.1 GHz and 10.6 GHz and puts tight technical restrictions on devices below 3.1 GHz'the area DOD sought to protect.

'UWB devices will save firefighters' and policemen's lives, prevent automobile accidents, assist search-and-rescue crews in seeing through the rubble of disaster sites, enable broadband connections between our home electronics and allow exciting new forms of communications in the years ahead,' FCC commissioner Michael J. Copps said.

In the months leading up to the vote, senior Defense officials tried to convince FCC to protect military-controlled spectrum. Defense officials said they were happy with the outcome.

'The department supports FCC's reasoned and balanced approach of protecting critical national security systems from frequency interference while allowing commercial deployment of new technologies,' said Steven Price, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for spectrum.

'DOD concluded FCC's technical restrictions on UWB devices would be sufficient to protect military systems,' Price added. 'Such restrictions were the minimum required to avoid interference with those systems.'

Concerns over 3.1 GHz

DOD had worried that nonlicensed use of the technology posed a risk of interference to Defense systems such as the Global Positioning System, which operates below 4.2 GHz.

A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Ken McClellan, said although FCC allowed UWB use starting at 3.1 GHz, DOD does not run any systems that would be affected by UWB emissions in that band.

Other federal agencies, including the Transportation Department and NASA, had asked FCC to allow UWB operation above 6 GHz. Several companies that sell GPS technology, two public-safety organizations and some mobile-phone carriers also opposed the 3.1-GHz plan.

Transportation and NASA fear UWB transmissions could interfere with such systems as Terminal Doppler Weather Radar, Tactical Air Navigation and Microwave Landing systems.

Even some commissioners, including Copps, were cautious about whether UWB would interfere with critical spectrum users.

'Spectrum management decisions are always complex and challenging,' said Kevin J. Martin, another FCC commissioner. 'In an environment where the amount of unencumbered spectrum is decreasing while demand continues to grow, it is even more critical we make interference and sharing decisions that do not waste this precious natural resource.'

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