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FCC Eyes New Spectrum for Wi-Fi-Type Service

The Federal Communications Commission has kicked off a process to determine whether or not Globalstar Inc., which provides satellite phone service, can use a portion of its spectrum to offer terrestrial Wi-Fi-type service in the United States.

Globalstar wants to combine its licensed spectrum with a slice of the upper end of the unlicensed 2.4 Ghz Wi-Fi band currently not used in the United States. Tests last spring in Silicon Valley and the Boston area showed the new service has five times the range and four times the throughput capacity of standard, unlicensed Wi-Fi, according to Globalstar. Unlicensed Wi-Fi has a range of about 150 feet indoors, 300 feet outdoors and a throughput of 54 megabits per second.

Globalstar is licensed to operate from 2483.5-2495 MHz, which overlaps with Wi-Fi channel 14 at 2473-2495 MHz. The company wants to use both bands for its new service.

Though Wi-Fi only accounts for a thin slice of total spectrum, based on data compiled by Cisco Systems Inc., in 2012, 33 percent of mobile data was off-loaded to Wi-Fi, and by 2017, up to 46 percent of mobile data traffic will be carried by unlicensed Wi-Fi spectrum, not spectrum licensed to cellular carriers, the FCC said.

The FCC licensed Jarvinian Wireless Application Fund of Boston to conduct Silicon Valley tests from California-based transmitters in Cupertino and Santa Clara. John Dooley, managing director of Jarvinian, told the FCC in a July 1 letter that the Silicon Valley tests were conducted to help a “a major technology company assess the significant performance benefits” of the planned Globalstar service for a “transformative consumer broadband application."

Dooley did not identify the company but Telecom, Media and Finance Associates, a consulting firm in Menlo Park, Calif., used the coordinates in the Jarvinian application to determine all three locations were housed in offices of the secretive lab126 subsidiary of Amazon, which  designs and engineers hand-held consumer electronics devices. The company also speculated that Amazon wanted to use the new Globalstar service to develop new hubs to connect a wide range of home systems.

Oceus Networks of Reston, Va., said on Sept. 3 it wants to test the Globalstar terrestrial service for mobile and field applications.

Dooley said the tests conducted last spring of the proposed Globalstar terrestrial service “exceeded our expectations for distance and capacity while not interfering or degrading the existing traffic on traditional Wi-Fi channels.”   

That’s not the view of the Consumer Electronics Association, which said the Globalstar proposal poses “a significant risk to unlicensed operations in the 2.4 GHz band and potentially threatens the economic value, consumer benefit, growth, and potential for innovation of those unlicensed operations.”  ABI Research reported last December that over five billion Wi-Fi devices have been shipped worldwide.

The Globalstar proposal “could potentially increase  the amount of spectrum available for broadband access in the United States,” FCC said.

“At the same time, significant concerns have been raised about potential detrimental impacts on unlicensed devices,” FCC added. “We seek comment on the costs and benefits of the proposed approach, and on changes to our rules which may facilitate such  deployment and minimize any negative impacts.”

The FCC is not expected to rule on the Globalstar proposal until eary in the summer of 2014.

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