radio spectrum

Pushing spectrum boundaries

The Federal Communications Commission wants to expand access to a section of high-frequency spectrum to see if innovators and entrepreneurs can effectively commercialize it.

The agency, with unanimous approval from its five commissioners, issued a proposed rulemaking notice on Feb. 22 to expand access to a total of 102.2 gigahertz of spectrum for licensed point-to-point services above 95 GHz, unlicensed operations, and a new class of experimental licenses above 95 GHz.

The bandwidth is so high on the spectrum that the space is currently unused. The FCC said it "has long been considered the outermost horizon of the usable spectrum range." The Earth's atmosphere tends to soak up transmissions in such high bandwidth ranges, just as it does with x-rays, infrared and ultraviolet rays from the sun. Systems that use the bandwidth will have to adapt to the phenomenon.

The bandwidth is so remote that the commission currently has no rules that permit licensed or unlicensed communications use above 95 GHz, other than by amateur operators or on an experimental basis.

"The history of wireless innovation is one of government creating space for broad thinking and entrepreneurs using that space to take us in unexpected directions," Pai said in a Feb 21 blog post preceding the plan's release. "With this order, we'll set up a big sandbox for engineers and technologists to work with -- and we'll then see what American ingenuity delivers."

"Developments in these bands could help relieve what some have labeled as a 'spectrum crunch,'" Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said in a statement. The move will "likely translate into utilizing more spectrum for weather and air traffic control radars," he added.

The federal government is in the midst of a decade-long plan to identify and open up 500 megahertz of federal and non-federal spectrum for commercial use.

The FCC said it wants the spectrum bands above 95 GHz bands to be licensed on a nationwide, non-exclusive basis, with individual point-to-point links registered with a database manager.

Because of the vast amount of spectrum potentially available, the point-to-point links might be able to transmit at much higher data rates than systems in lower frequency bands.

The FCC also said that the short life span of transmissions in the bandwidth because of atmospheric absorption could be an advantage, allowing many licenses for applications within smaller spaces with potentially less interference.

This article was first posted to FCW, a sibling site to GCN.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


  • Records management: Look beyond the NARA mandates

    Pandemic tests electronic records management

    Between the rush enable more virtual collaboration, stalled digitization of archived records and managing records that reside in datasets, records management executives are sorting through new challenges.

  • boy learning at home (Travelpixs/

    Tucson’s community wireless bridges the digital divide

    The city built cell sites at government-owned facilities such as fire departments and libraries that were already connected to Tucson’s existing fiber backbone.

Stay Connected