COMMISSIONER MICHAEL O’RIELLY
Revision of Part 15 of the Commission’s Rules to Permit Unlicensed National Information
Infrastructure (U-NII) Devices in the 5 GHz Band
Today’s item magnifies the importance of unlicensed spectrum in our modern communications
landscape. In my time working for Senator John Sununu, I had the privilege of working with Senator
Maria Cantwell and her great staff to advance a number of unlicensed measures, including opening up the
television white spaces. The beauty of unlicensed spectrum, I learned, is that no one can predict with
certainty what it will ultimately be used for, but it is a very safe bet that some uses will far exceed
expectations or even become game changers.
If you want to meet the true innovators and entrepreneurs in spectrum policy, talk to the men and
women in the unlicensed community. They can literally turn trash into treasure. Take, for example, the
former so-called “garbage bands” at 900 MHz, 2.4 GHz, and 5.8 GHz. Once thought unusable, the FCC
opened these bands up to unlicensed use in the 1980s and today they are some of the most valuable bands
in the world, hosting popular wireless services, the most notable being Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, but also
include baby monitors, cordless phones, garage door openers. Wireless broadband providers use these
bands to expand broadband services to harder to reach parts of America, and some cable operators are
devoting substantial funds to deploy Wi-Fi networks to provide consumers with fast, reliable broadband
To put these contributions into perspective, consider the following. By some estimates,
unlicensed spectrum generates as much as $220 billion in value annually to the economy.1 And, in 2013,
approximately .5 exabytes, or 57 percent, of mobile data was offloaded onto Wi-Fi networks each month.
By 2018, this monthly offload is expected to reach 4.8 exabytes and make up 64 percent of all mobile
As Americans demand more mobile data at faster speeds, the Commission will have to find
additional unlicensed spectrum to accommodate the growth in Wi-Fi. The 5 GHz band’s propagation
characteristics and new 802.11ac standard make it ideal for this purpose. That is why the Middle Class
Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, which I joined others in some late nights working on, directed
the Commission to advance unlicensed use in 5 GHz and that is why I am pleased to join my colleagues
in approving this order.
The action we take today will permit outdoor use in the U-NII-1 band and harmonize power
levels with those in the U-NII-3 band. This harmonization will allow consumers to benefit from the new
Wi-Fi standard that will increase data speeds. Along with the enhanced use of the U-NII-1 band, the item
provides safeguards that will facilitate corrective action should large deployments result in harmful
interference to licensed services.
1 New study released by WifiForward finds unlicensed spectrum generated $222 billion in value to the U.S. economy
in 2013 and contributed $6.7 billion to U.S. GDP
, WIFIFORWARD, http://www.wififorward.org/wp
content/uploads/2014/01/Value-of-Unlicensed-Spectrum-to-the-US-Economy-overview.pdf (last visited Mar. 26,
Cisco Visual Networking Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update; Letter from Paul J. Sinderbrand,
Counsel to Cisco Systems, Inc., to Marlene H. Dortch, Secretary, Federal Communications Commission, ET Docket
No. 13-49 (Mar. 7, 2014).
The order also takes additional steps to ensure that harmful interference does not occur to
incumbent 5 GHz licensees. First, manufacturers are required to implement security measures to prevent
unauthorized software changes to their equipment. We cannot allow rogue use of devices and everyone
should be on notice that it will not be tolerated. Second, we modify certain technical requirements for
devices operating in the U-NII-2 bands to provide additional protections to FAA weather and other radar
It is important to remember that more work remains in other parts of the band to further increase
unlicensed use, and I hope to see a separate order on this point soon. This will have to be done in
cooperation with the primary federal and non-federal users, including the intelligent transportation
systems program (ITS) at the Department of Transportation. I hope that we can count on them to work
expeditiously with us to resolve any remaining hurdles.
Finally, I would like to express my appreciation to the staff in the Office of Engineering and
Technology (OET). We ask a lot of OET in many different contexts. Here, OET acted as negotiator,
mediator and referee, carefully analyzing, accepting, and dismissing, as appropriate, select arguments
relating to the U-NII-1 band. For a number of months, there was a very contentious debate between
parties presenting studies with conflicting technical parameters and assumptions. The dedicated staff was
able to steer the parties to an acceptable outcome, as well as address other issues pertaining to the 5 GHz
band, and I thank them for their work.