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FCC to Reform Spectrum Receivers, Opening Airwaves

April 22, 2022 by Madeline Hughes
FCC to Reform Spectrum Receivers, Opening Airwaves

WASHINGTON — Spectrum technology is at the core of modern wireless communication, enabling the seamless transmission of information between major systems and devices like cell phones, televisions, GPS and radars. Like all communication technology, spectrum has a transmitter and a receiver, but they haven’t always been equally regulated.

The Federal Communications Commission took steps Thursday to regulate spectrum receiver performance by starting its notice of inquiry process. 

Better receiver performance of the spectrum receptors will lead to the FCC’s ability to allow more private use of public airwaves. For instance, in 2020 the FCC opened up the C-Band spectrum, which allowed cell phone companies to provide 5G service.

At Thursday’s meeting, Commissioner Brendan Carr explained the issues that halted 5G rollout near some airports. At the time, airline pilot and flight attendant unions contended the 5G signal interfered with their navigation technology, which also utilizes part of the spectrum. 

The complaint illustrated the need for improved receiver standards to provide private use to a “valuable swath of airwaves,” he said.

“That entire time-consuming effort might have been avoided if more efficient receiver standards were in place. Otherwise, our innovation use cases of the future will be constrained and limited by potentially decades-old and inefficient standards,” Carr said.

The commission specifically hopes to improve “interference immunity,” using the stricter regulations to determine which receivers connect with specific spectrum waves.

Commissioner Geoffrey Starks likened ensuring those with spectrum receivers guarantee they meet stricter requirements to homeowners creating their own privacy and noise reduction at their homes.

“… [If] we compare the receiver performance issue to a neighborhood dispute, we’ve spent the past two decades forcing homeowners to speak in no more than a whisper to avoid disturbing their neighbors,” Starks said. “That’s not fair.”

The potential reform, still in its infancy, has been attempted twice before in the past two decades, but the commission failed to follow through. Now, there is unanimous bipartisan support on the politically split commission to reform regulations on the receivers.

Commissioner Nathan Simington has been the leading voice on the commission to reform spectrum technology regulation and better utilize the increasingly limited airwaves.

“Like real estate, they just aren’t making any more of it. The future is dense spectral neighborhoods of commercial users packed tightly, in space and in spectrum, vying for every last hertz of usable real estate,” Simington said Thursday. “We should think of RF spectrum as fully occupied land whose usage must inevitably intensify. Our regulatory philosophy must accommodate this new reality.”

Now the commission will solicit public input to reform its regulations while at the same time working with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to update policies already on the books, Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said.

“We need policies that promote more efficient use of this scarce resource,” she said.

Madeline can be reached at maddie@thewellnews.com

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