The good news is that in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking released by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on February 20 (NPRM), the agency proposes to make available an additional 195 MHz of spectrum in the 5GHz bands for Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure (U-NII) devices.  This is a 35% increase in available spectrum; a significant addition to capability.  The FCC's rules define U-NII devices as "intentional radiators operating in the frequency bands 5.15–5.35 GHz and 5.470–5.825 GHz that use wideband digital modulation techniques and provide a wide array of high data rate mobile and fixed communications for individuals, businesses, and institutions."

Along side this, however, are proposals to alter technical requirements for all U-NII devices in order to further protect against interference to primary allocations in the respective sub-bands.  At present, any operational U-NII device -- think of a Starbucks wi-fi access point -- is authorized to operate without a specific license from the FCC provided that it does not cause harmful interference to licensed operators in the band and, if it does, it must immediately either cure the interference or cease operations.

The FCC claims that its proposals are principally intended to:

  • "align the provisions for operation of digitally modulated devices in the 5.786-5.85 GHz band, now permitted under …[Rule] 15.247…with the rules for the U-NII-3 band under …[Rule] 15.407," 
  • "align the power limits and permissible locations for operations in the U-NII-1 and U-NII-2A bands to permit the introduction of a new generation of wireless devices…,"
  • develop means to prevent unlawful modification and operation of unlicensed devices in the U-NII bands as well as compliance issues that are likely to arise…."

These all sound well and good for the industry but no doubt individual manufacturers  of these devices will be impacted differently.  Accordingly, we encourage a careful review of the specific rule proposals contained in Appendix A to the NPRM.