How is wireless spectrum managed?

Episode 1258 (1:35:19)

Don from Fallbrook, CA

Don is calling to discuss wireless spectrum and the way it is managed. Don doesn't think most Americans really know what's happening with the sale of wireless spectrum. Leo says we own the spectrum, the air above us is property of the American people. But there has to be some way of managing it so everyone doesn't use the same frequencies. So the FCC is chartered by congress, among other things, to manage spectrum. They've determined what radio stations are on what frequencies, and that has worked for almost a hundred years now. It's also very lucrative for the federal government, though, as they auction off spectrum. Most recently they had a big auction for the 700mhz spectrum, and the lower the number the better that spectrum is. Lower spectrum signals are more capable of getting through buildings, so it's very valuable to cell networks.

Don is a production sound mixer who uses wireless microphones, and they cannot use anything from 700 to 800mhz. And now they're talking about using anything from 600mhz will be used for internet services. Leo says one of the things that the FCC is doing, which is probably a good idea, is moving away from analog. Amateur radio operators use both analog and digital, and are moving more into digital now. One of the reasons the FCC had that 700mhz band is because they took it from TV stations after the FCC told them to go digital. Analog broadcast television would use a lot more spectrum. So while spectrum is not infinite, it can be much more efficiently used as digital as opposed to analog. The FCC is very much in favor of moving as many people as possible to digital so they can jam more content into a smaller space.

These airwaves are our property, so it's reasonable to license transmissions. The FCC does have unlicensed spectrum, like the 2.4 Ghz, which is great because that's when amazing innovation happens like Wi-Fi. But there also needs to be regulated spectrum, so there's a tension between individual rights and social good.