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WiMax USA: Spectrum Crunch

Light Reading
LR Mobile News Analysis
Light Reading
9/30/2005

There is one big obstacle standing in the way of operators looking to roll out wireless broadband services in the U.S. using WiMax. There's a distinct lack of licensed spectrum available for such offerings.

Here's the problem: If you expect to use unlicensed spectrum for your WiMax service, there's really no way to guarantee the quality of service or connectivity. And it's already becoming clear that a few of the major carriers have locked down large chunks of the prime licensed bandwidth.

Operators wishing to launch WiMax services over the next couple of years face a choice: They either need to own or acquire spectrum in the licensed 2.5-2.6GHz bands. Or, they will have to use the more crowded 5.8GHz "public" band, which will be more prone to congestion and interference as the WiMax network footprint expands.

It should be a simple choice. Licensed spectrum is always going to make for a better quality of service than unlicensed bandwidth. But the 2.5-2.6GHz licensed bandwidth that is available is mostly concentrated in the hands of a few major operators, and a dark horse or two.

These are the factors that could make it difficult for many ISPs to offer comprehensive WiMax services nationwide without adding at least some unlicensed spectrum to the mix. And as we have seen with the growth of public WiFi networks, unlicensed spectrum often means less reliable connectivity that is prey to congestion.

For those who own it, licensed spectrum will be the way to go. It is already obvious that there some clear winners in the licensed field.

Leader of the pack is the newly merged cellular operator Sprint Nextel Corp. (NYSE: S). Between them Sprint and Nextel have 90 MHz of 2.5GHz spectrum, covering 80 markets in the U.S. Sprint is plotting fixed WiMax tests now and tests on into 2006. (See Sprint's Got WiMax Plans.)

"It is pretty clear that Sprint pretty much 'owns' this part of the spectrum in the U.S. right now," says Jack Gold of JGold Associates Inc. With Sprint already trialing fixed WiMax in this spectrum, they will likely have a six- to 12-month headstart over the competition."

In fact, Unstrung has even heard from a couple of sources that Sprint Nextel is willing to lease WiMax spectrum to smaller WISPs that aren't directly competitive with its main businesses.

But a Sprint spokesman says it's "way too premature" for Sprint to even be considering leasing out WiMax spectrum just yet. "First we figure what's the best technology to deploy within our spectrum assets and the spectrum demands for a marketable service," he says. "As those efforts are just beginning and will extend into 2006 and beyond, we're a bit away from those determinations."

Meanwhile -- down south -- fixed-line operator BellSouth Corp. (NYSE: BLS) owns over 50 licenses in the 2.5-2.6GHz bands, and could lease up to 58 more. It also has 22 licenses in the 2.3GHz band that could potentially be used for these types of services as well.

The operator won't reveal exactly what cities it could cover with the wireless broadband equipment it has been trialing recently, only the regions. "Our licenses are scattered throughout our nine-state service region -- Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missisippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee -- and into other areas, including Missouri, Arkansas, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.," a spokeswoman tells Unstrung.

The dark horse of the pack is Craig McCaw's new venture Clearwire LLC, which has been rolling out broadband services in small-town America using pre-WiMax gear from its subsidiary NextNet Wireless Inc. (See McCaw's Mystery Millions .)

The company is as tight-lipped about spectrum as it is with everything else. But a source says that, "Craig McCaw owns a lot of 2.6Ghz spectrum" in a 6MHz TV band.

So what of the rest of the operators out there?

"If I were Verizon, Cingular, or T-Mobile, I’d sure be looking for spectrum to compete with Sprint, especially in the mobile space when it is deployed in 2007," says analyst Gold.

Cingular could potentially get spectrum from its fixed-line parent companies BellSouth and SBC Communications Inc. (NYSE: SBC). But neither T-Mobile USA nor Verizon have laid out a wireless broadband strategy beyond the ongoing 3G updates of their cellular networks.

And there are a multitude of smaller WISPs and service providers that will need more bandwidth if they want to expand beyond initial trials and pilot offerings.

The WiMax spectrum crunch may become less of an issue over time as the 700MHz band is gradually being opened up by broadcasters so that high-speed wireless services can be implemented on these bands.

But for now it's a real question for operators looking to offer WiMax services in the U.S.A.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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freetoair
freetoair
12/5/2012 | 2:59:21 AM
re: WiMax USA: Spectrum Crunch
Spectrum is one of the fundamental WiMAX business issues, worldwide, not just in the U.S.

I hoped "boondocksbandit" & "boracho" had the answer here but looks like they came up mute.

Many folks seems to be in a 'glow' over the OFDM technology and blind to the big picture.


lrmobile_boondocksbandit
lrmobile_boondocksbandit
12/5/2012 | 2:59:20 AM
re: WiMax USA: Spectrum Crunch
"freetoair",
Read my earlier post again: I said that there is nothing in the 802.16E standard preventing it from being used at any frequency bands (most people including yourself assumed it is the MMDS band here and 3.5 Ghz worldwide), however I also said that spectrum will be the Achilles heel for WiMAX simply because there are many possibilities and no single, common band worldwide for it. Here is an indepth look at the possibilities:
http://www.wimaxtrends.com/art...
freetoair
freetoair
12/5/2012 | 2:59:17 AM
re: WiMax USA: Spectrum Crunch
boondocksbandit,

Sure you can use .16e in any spectrum band. Of course it may not officially be WiMAX if that particular band and regulatory guidelines do not match a WiMAX Certifiable Profile, but yes it could be 802.16e technology.

The focus on 2.5 & 3.5GHz is quite simple. These bands hold the best potential for availability worldwide. Why is this important? Because the whole point of a standard is to have multiple products, from multiple vendors, driving down costs and risks. So lining up some common spectrum targets is important. Vendors can not afford to build a great number of different radios and test/certify against a great number of radios from other vendors.

Yes I have seen this article.
Good overview at the high-level and on the surface the situation sounds good doesnGt it?
For example: GǣCovering 300MHz of bandwidth, from 3.3 to 3.6GHz and in some case up to 3.8GHzGǪGǥ

Wow 300MHz of spectrum.
Well wait a minute. LetGs go look specifically at what is available on a regional basis or a country by country basis. Ouch, not a lot of spectrum available from a regulatory standpoint in any country today. Furthermore if you assume multiple operators would be in any market wanting/needing spectrum, and that then spectrum is spilt among them. Ouch. Can an operator build a network using maybe 10MHz that is viable, scalable, sustainable? Remember that .16 peak datarates are tied directly to channel bandwith size and that bandwidth is shared by users in sector/cell. 3.5GHz is pretty ugly. 3.3-3.4GHz looks promising in many markets as 100MHz might be possible with some regulatory changes.

You should examine this situation much closer, read this article closer and look at an example market or two. Determine what the service offering desired (300kbps or 5Mbps, fixed and/or mobile, etc.), the number of operators, subscribers, etc. and the spectrum available at the end of the day. Then you let me know if you can build a viable network and what is would offer? How many channels are needed? Of what channel bandwidth?

So letGs look at 3.3-3.4GHz with 100MHz. Which is currently not available from a regulatory standpoint in any country I know. But assume it can/will be in the future. Assume split between 3 operators. That is 33.3MHz each. WiMAX really needs a 1:3 reuse at minimum. More is better but letGs just say this is viable. Then you have 3 channels of 11.1 MHz. That is probably the minimum to build a viable network in any particular market that offers reasonably high datarates, capacity, etc. More channels would be better to minimize interference, allow more capacity, etc. Not forgetting that for .16e mobile service in particular the propagation in a band like 3.3GHz is not good. Most everyone would want what 3G has as a minimum, that is spectrum around 2GHz or less.


In any case you still have not answered the question.
Granted it is not an easy one. Most people gloss over it because they just do not understand the technology/systems in-depth, do not understand the spectrum situation in detail and have not done the work to determine what the spectrum requirements would be to build a network.

Tell me where the spectrum is?
I think 100MHz at minimum is needed in any particular market, at a frequency that offers reasonable propagation/in-building penetration, and to support multiple operators while offering some semblance of broadband performance.

What do you think? Have you thought this through?
boracho
boracho
12/5/2012 | 2:59:02 AM
re: WiMax USA: Spectrum Crunch
There is no doubt that spectrum is one of the most critical factors that defines the WiMAX industry and the whole wireless industry in general.

The current status of fixed wireless WiMAX market is kind of laughable if not confusing. There is a multitude of profiles related to the different frequency bands and operating frequency which adds to the confusion. Most importantly the major unlicensed bands in regions like Europe and Japan are not even covered under WiMAX (at least the last time I checked). WiMAX certified systems will require some RF redesign to adapt it to specific regions.

On the mobile front the only feedback that I received so far is from handset vendors to integrate WiMAX with 3G (even triple support for WiMAX + WiFi + 3G). All of them were not sure on the spectrum and frequency bands deployed and where hoping to get this feedback from the cellular carriers themselves. However the real demand pull from wireless/cellular carriers is not there yet. The regional carrier will be the deciding factor is to what bands and frequency to use.

Freetoair to answer you question: there is confusion now in the fixed wireless WiMAX market, lets hope that this confusion will be delt with when mobile WiMAX shows up otherwise WiMAX will just be a WiFi+ technology and will never be a serious contender in 4G.
adlanefellah
adlanefellah
12/5/2012 | 2:57:43 AM
re: WiMax USA: Spectrum Crunch
Hello,

I have read with interest the article and the response/comment provided by freetoair.

I am senior analyst with Maravedis a market research and analysis firm specializing in broadband wireless and WiMAX markets. We have surveyed regulators in 53 countries and reviewed every license holder of 2.5/3.5/10.5GHz and lower bands in each country. The result of that survey is a database of technical and licensing information for BWA/WIMAX called "ClearSpectrum".

I must agree that the spectrum allocation varies greatly form one country to the other. Some license holders have as much as 70MHz duplex while others have to do with a mere 3.5MHz duplex. Now every deployment and business case associated with it will be different. Not all service providers will have national footprint targeting residential and business users alike.
Further service providers like Libera in the UK are using some of the plenty of spectrum avaulable in the unlicensed 5.8GHz very successfully.

I would say that there is plenty of spectrum available for fixed applications but where the challenge is for mobile applications where as you mention, propagation and regulatory restrictions apply.

Indeed our survey indicates 77% of regulators surveyed DO NOT permit mobile services in the 3.5GHz band and the 2.5GHz is reserved for UMTS in Europe until now. That may change with the current comment proceedings but you can bet that 3G lobbyists will not watch and wait.

For more information about the research we have performed, please visit our web site at www.maravedis-bwa.com

Adlane
adlanefellah
adlanefellah
12/5/2012 | 2:57:43 AM
re: WiMax USA: Spectrum Crunch
Hello,

I have read with interest the article and the response/comment provided by freetoair.

I am senior analyst with Maravedis a market research and analysis firm specializing in broadband wireless and WiMAX markets. We have surveyed regulators in 53 countries and reviewed every license holder of 2.5/3.5/10.5GHz and lower bands in each country. The result of that survey is a database of technical and licensing information for BWA/WIMAX called "ClearSpectrum".

I must agree that the spectrum allocation varies greatly form one country to the other. Some license holders have as much as 70MHz duplex while others have to do with a mere 3.5MHz duplex. Now every deployment and business case associated with it will be different. Not all service providers will have national footprint targeting residential and business users alike.
Further service providers like Libera in the UK are using some of the plenty of spectrum avaulable in the unlicensed 5.8GHz very successfully.

I would say that there is plenty of spectrum available for fixed applications but where the challenge is for mobile applications where as you mention, propagation and regulatory restrictions apply.

Indeed our survey indicates 77% of regulators surveyed DO NOT permit mobile services in the 3.5GHz band and the 2.5GHz is reserved for UMTS in Europe until now. That may change with the current comment proceedings but you can bet that 3G lobbyists will not watch and wait.

For more information about the research we have performed, please visit our web site at www.maravedis-bwa.com

Adlane
freetoair
freetoair
12/5/2012 | 2:57:40 AM
re: WiMax USA: Spectrum Crunch
Adlane,

Fair & thoughtful response.

Only question I might raise is to your statement: "I would say that there is plenty of spectrum available for fixed applications..."

I am not fully convinced. Are you referring to T1/E1-like services or wireless DSL-like service?

I might be inclined to say there is enough spectrum for Pt-MPt T1/E1 type services ala Towerstream. But even that is challenged in many, many markets. LetGs take China for example where at 3.5GHz there is 10.5MHz allocated to each of three operators in any province. My understanding is that this has not worked out well for a variety of reasons including cost models, rf propagation, some poor quality products from vendors, etc., but also due to the limited amount of spectrum.

Not sure this is true. Any thoughts or perspectives?

For mobile services rf propagation is a critical factor. However the actual channel bandwidth available is critical as it:
1) determines the datarate or service level that can be offered and
2) determines the subscriber capacity possible.

So using an example at 3.5GHz with 10.5MHz bandwidth, do you slice that into 1.75MHz channels, 3.5MHz channels, etc. and what then is the datarate possible and what is the capacity that can be supported? Interference / Re-use also must be considered as well as overhead introduced by mobility for handover/off, etc. Comparing WiMAX in a band vs 3G air interfaces there are bits/hertz improvements for WiMAX but the narrower the channel the less this matters to the actual user service level.

Appears you have researched the spectrum availability worldwide, certainly it seems more than I have, so I respect your input. So let me ask how much spectrum do you think is needed in any particular market assuming:

2-3 operators offering GǣfixedGǥ personal broadband (not E1/T1) with datarates of between 700kbps to 1.5Mbps DL?

2-3 operators offering Gǣlow speed mobileGǥ personal broadband (not E1/T1) with datarates of between 700kbps to 1.5Mbps DL?

Realize there are a lot of variables, just an opinion. 10, 30, 50, 100, 300MHz?
ufo
ufo
12/5/2012 | 2:56:17 AM
re: WiMax USA: Spectrum Crunch
http://www.pcsintel.com/module...
freetoair
freetoair
12/5/2012 | 2:56:17 AM
re: WiMax USA: Spectrum Crunch
"...Sprint will gain a blank check to rebuild the 700 and 800 MHz bands in their image, taking licenses as needed from whoever has them regardless of how fairly they gained them at FCC auction in the past."


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