FCC Chairman: Why We Need More Wireless Spectrum

For FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, it’s been a rough summer. He’s come under fire from all sides over his and the FCC’s stance on net neutrality. We haven’t been shy in unloading on the man either, expecting him to do more than he has and he can. But if there’s one bright spot for the FCC Chairman, it’s been the recent order to free up under-utilized TV spectrum and use it for broadband and other open wireless transmission purposes.

This is the first time in 25 years that the FCC has passed an order that frees up wireless spectrum and makes it available unlicensed for innovation. “Wireless in general is very central to our economic growth,” Chairman Genachowski told me in a phone conversation earlier this month. He believes that wireless and wireless broadband will have a wide-ranging impact on everything from health to entertainment to education. (Related Post: All You Need to Know About White Spaces Broadband.)

“A year ago, no one was talking about the spectrum shortage in this country, and now we are moving toward solving that problem,” said the FCC chairman. According to some estimates, the demand for mobile broadband means that in three years, the current amount of spectrum won’t be enough. The FCC, in its national broadband plan, has asked for 500 Megahertz of new wireless spectrum, of which 300 MHz it wants freed up in the next five years.

The FCC is working on ways to make more licensed spectrum available, he said, but he wants to make a big push on the unlicensed spectrum. “A full spectrum strategy needs both licensed and unlicensed spectrum, and I am really happy with this order,” he said. “Twenty-five years ago, when the FCC released spectrum, we didn’t know Wi-Fi [would] happen.” Today, it’s hard to find devices that don’t have Wi-Fi capabilities.

With this superior spectrum, he believes a whole wave of new applications are going to emerge for what some have labeled (for lack of a better word) “Super Wi-Fi.” “This will be a big boost for M2M wireless networks,” Genachowski predicts. “We are hoping that companies will make routers for this ‘Super Wi-Fi’ and get to market fast,” he said.

“M2M will not only have a big impact, but it also has the most potential.” The FCC Chairman pointed to a North Carolina trial using wireless networks for monitoring water resources. We agree; as we saw at Mobilize 2010, the world is gearing up for an era when most devices will have connectivity built into them.