Military willing to share enough spectrum to make a difference. Putting that to use for expanded WiFi is almost a no-brainer because WiFi is clearly delivering more value than monopoly spectrum. There’s a huge swath currently set aside for defense, which only uses it on the coasts. (Presumably, that means navy radars.) The proposal would allow others to share the spectrum where it’s not in use after checking with a location database. DOD has agreed. The best guess is 60% of the country will be available.
The current FCC proposal wants to tie up much of the spectrum coming free. Perhaps that was a good idea a while back when AT&T discussed building a large network of 3.5 GHz LTE smalls cells and some much smaller companies had some ideas. LTE absolutely does not require monopoly spectrum. Qualcomm, working with Verizon, is promising LTE in unlicensed bands. One report is that AT&T is tying that up in standards.
AT&T’s technology choices have changed since then. It’s highly unlikely they would actually build very much, if anything. LTE is proving to have more than enough capacity so far, especially because AT&T has a lot of unused frequencies including 2300. By 2018-2020, 28 GHz 5G will probably be far more attractive to AT&T in the areas they need capacity (mostly dense urban.) AT&T is one of the world leaders in exploring 28 GHz.
I asked AT&T if they were actually committed to building in the band if the FCC made it available. They aren’t.
I have no inside information about AT&T’s plans but the logic of the different choices is apparent. I took a strong position that John Leibovitz, Wheeler’s spectrum guy, revise the proposal and use all for WiFi style unlicensed. I think he’s well aware of the issues but I believe it will be very hard to change. The old proposal has momentum.
Meanwhile, the European satellite guys want a monopoly on this band, asserting it’s impossible to share with terrestrial broadband. Engineers tell me it’s not impossible but there are problems to solve.
On the policy side, Harold Feld of Public Knowledge is the D.C. expert on this one. At the Aspen Conference he spoke about this in depth in an off-the-record session. Michael Calabrese has a related thought, “Use it or share it.”
“No more monopolies than necessary,” is how Harold allowed me to summarize his opinion.