COMMISSIONER JESSICA ROSENWORCEL
Revision of Part 15 of the Commission’s Rules to Permit Unlicensed National
Information Infrastructure (U-NII) Devices in the 5 GHz Band
This proceeding sits at the intersection of two paradigm-shifting social and business trends. Call
it a collision of cool.
The first trend is well known in these parts—the move to mobility. The statistics speak for
themselves. In the next four years, mobile traffic is expected to increase by 11 times. By that time there
will be more mobile devices than people on earth. But it is more than sheer volume that is at issue. It is
the fact that wireless functionality will be built into everything around us and everything we do as we
approach the coming Internet of Things.
The second trend is better known in technology and innovation corridors around the country—
from Austin to Boston, from Seattle to Silicon Valley. It is the move toward sandboxes. Software
developers often code sandboxes into their programs. This code allows others access to a portion of the
program without harming the host platform. It provides a space to experiment within the program,
minimizing risk before introducing ideas at a broader scale.
Up until now, sandbox culture has mostly resided within software applications. But I think it has
application to a lot of what comes before us at this agency—and I’ve spoken before about how I think it is
a useful framework for our technology transitions trials.
In fact, the sweetest spot for the sandbox could come from combining its experimental
possibilities with the power of unlicensed spectrum. The innovative potential is big. By making more of
our airwaves subject to access by rule rather than license, we reduce barriers to entry for innovators. We
open up spaces for creative use and experimentation in the wireless network from the software layer to
the equipment layer.
That is why what we do here is important. Today, we increase opportunities for unlicensed in the
5 GHz band. Critically, we take the flexible rules that have already made the 5.725-5.825 GHz band an
unlicensed success story and we expand them to the 5.150-5.250 GHz band. While that sounds technical,
this change will have real impact. Because we are doubling the unlicensed bandwidth in the 5 GHz band
So what does that mean? For starters, if you like Wi-Fi, that is a lot more. Cheers for that. But
the power of unlicensed goes beyond onramps to the Internet and offloading for licensed services. It is
the power of setting aside more of our airwaves for experiment and innovation without license. It is
bound to yield new and exciting developments. It is also bound to be an economic boon. After all, the
economic impact of unlicensed spectrum has been estimated at $140 billion annually. By any measure,
that is a lot.
So we should not stop here with the 5 GHz band. After all, good spectrum policy will always
require a mix of licensed and unlicensed services. Treating them as competing is a relic from the past,
because going forward they are complementary—and more and more devices and services are bound to
incorporate the use of both.
That means we need to continue to seize unlicensed spectrum opportunities across other spectrum
bands. In the near term, that means we should develop the possibilities of using unlicensed bandwidth in
the 3.5 GHz band. We also should find lawful ways to provide unlicensed services in the 600 MHz
spectrum band now used by broadcasters.
But above all, we need to create more opportunities for combining the great power of mobility
with the cool possibilities of sandbox experimentation—and I think unlicensed spectrum is the sweet spot
where it starts.