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FCC to Free Up Unlicensed Spectrum for Wi-Fi

It’s the largest block of unlicensed spectrum to be made available for expansion of Wi-Fi in a decade

Here at CES, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said the commission will begin a government-wide effort to increase speeds and alleviate Wi-Fi congestion at major hubs, such as airports, convention centers and large conferences. In addition, this would also increase speed and capacity for Wi-Fi in the home where multiple users and devices are often on the network at the same time.

The effort will increase and free up unlicensed spectrum available for ultra-high-speed, high-capacity Wi-Fi by up to 35 percent, according to the commission. This effort will enable higher data speeds and greater capacity — most notably, improved HD video distribution capability. Genachowski said that the FCC will take the first steps next month to free some 195 MHz of spectrum in the 5 GHz band, the largest block of unlicensed spectrum to be made available for expansion of Wi-Fi since 2003.

Asked for reaction at a panel discussion, fellow Commissioner Robert McDowell said, “Congress told us we should do this.” He gave so-called TV “white spaces” as an example, saying by next year’s CES show, “we should see white spaces devices debuted.”

In other FCC business, the agency plans to focus on lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy; it will hold a series of emergency preparedness hearings in February. Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said she can’t let go of the images that come to mind for Sandy. Something like a quarter of the wireless towers in the affected areas weren’t capable of providing service. “That’s disturbing,” she said. “We need to understand what it means when more consumers move from traditional phones to IP services.”

McDowell cautioned the agency “is not going to be able to regulate away hurricanes,” and said, “We need to keep expectations realistic.”