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Mobile Broadband at 115MHz of Spectrum Gets Fast-Tracked

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration has identified 115MHz of spectrum that can be made available for commercial mobile broadband services within the next five years.

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In a report issued Monday, the NTIA said that it had identified portions of two spectrum bands that could be opened up quickly for commercial use, as well as another band that could be opened up in the near future pending further evaluations.

Artwork: Chip Taylor
The first band identified by the NTIA, ranging from 1695 to1710MHz, is currently used by radio transmitters on weather balloons, as well as for weather satellites. NTIA says that the band could be used for commercial broadband services as long as the government sets exclusion zones that prevent commercial services from interfering with government agencies that receive data over the spectrum.

The second major band identified by the NITA is in the range from 3550 to 3650MHz and is used mostly by the Department of Defense for a wide variety of high-power radars. NTIA says that this spectrum can be safely licensed for broadband "outside certain coastal areas and test and training areas" without interfering with Defense Department operations.

The NTIA also examined spectrum in the 4200 to 4220MHZ and 4380 to 440MHz bands but concluded that they couldn't be opened up from commercial use before the year 2016. The administration also says that it could open up spectrum on the 1755 to1780MHz band but it would need more time to evaluate the spectrum since it is used by multiple government agencies throughout the country.

The federal government has made opening up new spectrum for commercial wireless data use one of its major goals in furthering the spread of mobile broadband. The Federal Communications Commission recently projected that growth in wireless data demand will lead to a "spectrum deficit" of 275MHz if no new spectrum is released by 2014.

The FCC has said it wants to free up at least 300MHz of new spectrum for voice and data dual use by 2014, as well as an additional 150MHz that could be used solely for wireless broadband. This is in line with the recommendations that the FCC free up a total of 500MHz of new spectrum for mobile broadband in the National Broadband Plan released earlier this year. In that report, the FCC said it would look at freeing up 120MHz of spectrum currently being used for broadcast television, 90MHz of spectrum used by mobile satellite services and 60MHz of spectrum known as the Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) spectrum band.

Several research firms and companies have projected an explosion in wireless broadband consumption over the next few years, fueled mainly by 4G mobile data technologies such as WiMAX and LTE that will allow for the streaming of high-definition video over the air. IT research firm Ovum, for instance, has projected that the number of mobile users subscribing to either 3G or 4G services will grow to 2 billion worldwide by 2014. Goldman Sachs' investment research arm, meanwhile, projected last month that wireless data revenues would surge by more than six-fold by the year 2020 and that wireless data revenues would nearly triple over the next two years alone.

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