FCC Gooses Cable Wi-Fi

FCC Gooses Cable Wi-Fi

WASHINGTON — Cable operators got another boost for their business from the Federal Communications Commission last week, and again, they had the agency’s focus on advancing wireless broadband to thank for it.

The FCC last week voted to help free up more unlicensed spectrum in the 5-Gigahertz band, used by MSOs to create the Wi-Fi hot spots that let subscribers take their Internet service on the road, via tablets and cellphones.

The agency voted unanimously to try and free up 195 Megahertz of additional spectrum, subject to interference protection, that can be used for those cable Wi-Fi hot spots, including allowing for faster service — up to 1 Gigabit per second — and less congestion when multiple users access hot spots simultaneously.

That move could make for easier access for commuters at rail stations or for those accessing Wi-Fi at conventions. But it could also ease congestion in the home, where Wi-Fi routers using the 2.4-GHz band must compete with cordless phones, microwave ovens and Bluetooth-enabled devices.

Cable operators — Cablevision Systems, in particular — had been pushing for the spectrum, just as they have called for opening up more unlicensed spectrum via the broadcast incentive auctions. The National Cable & Telecommunications Association praised the FCC move, pointing to congestion and noting that operators require access to more spectrum to handle the “skyrocketing” need for speed.

“More extensive use of the 5-GHz band, along with additional unlicensed spectrum in other bands, will permit cable companies and other innovators to continue to provide Americans with new benefits, businesses with new opportunities, and those in need with life-saving connections,” the NCTA said.

The FCC doesn’t get all the credit, since it was under orders from Congress to try and open up more Wi-Fi spectrum in the 5-GHz band, per the incentive-auction legislation passed last year. But it was only required to try and find 210 MHz of spectrum, FCC commissioner Ajit Pai said.

The commission must also still ensure that freeing up spectrum does not interfere with incumbent users of the 5-Ghz band, including military and Federal Aviation Administration uses, as well as collision-avoidance systems for cars. But FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said he was confident all 195 Mhz could be freed up and interference issues addressed.

The FCC would continue to “lean into” every idea to free up more spectrum for licensed and unlicensed use, Genachowski said.