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Spectrum Available for Mobile Broadband How the U.S. Stacks Up and Challenges Ahead

by: Ruth Milkman, Chief, WTB and Julius Knapp, Chief, OET

February 26, 2013

Today the United States is recognized as a leader in mobile technology, including commercial deployments of LTE and development of mobile operating systems.  This leadership depends on our continuing to make additional spectrum available for licensed mobile broadband and unlicensed uses, particularly as other countries are also focused on making additional broadband spectrum available.

Today we are releasing a white paper that compiles information on the status of licensed and unlicensed spectrum resources in the United States and selected countries around the globe, which also realize the importance of additional mobile broadband spectrum, and are taking steps to make more available.   The countries selected for this analysis were based in part on data availability.  Future updates of the paper may include additional countries.  Fueled by the skyrocketing demand for mobile data services, there has been a lot of interest in understanding what spectrum is available for mobile broadband networks around the world, and how the situation in the United States compares to other countries.  While much information about global spectrum resources is publicly available, getting a complete grasp of the spectrum availability picture around the globe can be daunting.  Various conditions and unique issues often arise regarding different frequency bands in individual countries:  for example, frequencies may be available, but only for use in certain geographic areas; or there may be restrictions on spectrum use.  In addition, different sources may use different definitions, so a frequency band might be considered “currently available” according to one source but not another, resulting in different bottom lines. 

 The purpose of this paper is to make spectrum data more accessible.  It provides such information as the total amount of mobile broadband spectrum currently available or in the pipeline in various countries.  The paper also breaks down the numbers and provides specific information for each frequency band, including any particular factors or assumptions being taken into account in our assessment of how much spectrum is available.  In providing granular information, we intend to provide a public forum for discussing and sharing spectrum data, thereby promoting transparency and a better understanding of global spectrum availability.

As the paper shows, the United States is utilizing a variety of approaches to respond to the mobile broadband spectrum challenge.  Through these steps, the Commission is on track to exceed its target of making an additional 300 megahertz of spectrum available for mobile broadband by 2015.    To date, the U.S. has made available approximately 608 megahertz of licensed spectrum under 2.7 GHz for mobile broadband services.

Within the past 6 months, the Commission acted to free 40 megahertz of spectrum in AWS-4 and 20 megahertz in WCS for mobile broadband.  An additional 55 megahertz of licensed spectrum is in the pipeline within the next three years.  In addition, efforts are already underway that could free up significantly more spectrum, including forthcoming incentive auctions of broadcast television spectrum.  The U.S. also has made spectrum available for mobile broadband on a non-exclusive basis.  Over 700 megahertz of unlicensed spectrum suitable for wireless broadband is currently available at or below the 5 GHz region of the spectrum, with the Commission most recently freeing up additional unlicensed spectrum through the use of dynamic sharing.   And just last week, the Commission initiated action to make available up to 195 megahertz of unlicensed 5 GHz spectrum that is suitable for “gigabit” Wi-Fi. 

The paper also notes that the spectrum bands commonly used for licensed mobile broadband services around the world generally are based on “standard” bands used in the United States or Europe.  These standard bands form spectrum building blocks that many countries mix and match to meet mobile broadband needs. 

We hope that policy makers, mobile broadband providers, equipment manufacturers, and consumers will find this paper useful as a vehicle for sharing spectrum data and discussing spectrum issues.  We encourage feedback – including any updates or corrections, or data regarding spectrum availability in additional countries – that can help improve the accuracy and comprehensiveness of this paper.  Given the complexities of spectrum in the U.S. and other countries, and in light of the dynamic and rapidly changing nature of the wireless landscape, we intend to update this paper periodically.  Please submit any comments to our dedicated email address, intlspectrumpaper@fcc.gov.  

Checkout the International Spectrum White Paper.

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