So What’s a Good Source for Spectrum Allocation Info?
So What’s a Good Source for Spectrum Allocation Info?
So What’s a Good Source for Spectrum Allocation Info?

    Get Involved Today

    With a major spectrum auction coming up on August 9, a rulemaking with the 900 MHz band in play, a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for the returned TV Spectrum Auction rules on the agenda for the Commission open meeting this week, the Commission green lighting the new interference avoidance technology to make use of the 5.3 GHz unlicensed band, and lots of other spectrum issues buzzing about, readers may wonder where they can find a freely available, useful, up-to-date chart on who uses what portions of the electromagnetic spectrum.

    Sadly, this is another case of “chose two out of three.”

    The most recently available free information available can be found on the FCC's spectrum management web page:

    Sadly, while it is available free and has been updated relatively recently, it is almost incomprehenisble because of its sheer size and scope (and the fact that absolutely no effort has been made to make it understandble to the interested lay person).

    The most useful free resource available (unless someone points me elsewhere in the comments) is Jim Snider's “Citizen's Guide To The Airwaves,” published by New America Foundation and available
    here. Jim put a lot of thought and research into it. You can download a very easy to read chart and accompanying report that explains how to use the guide. The only problem is that NAF has not updated it since they published it in 2003. Since then, the FCC has made a number of changes.

    I'm told that a number of pay services offer excellent charts, but I can't afford any of them.

    For those focusing on the upcomming auction issues, many people consider spectrum below 3 GHz (and particularly between 500 MHz and 1 GHz) as the best set of frequencies for delivering broadband (and ignoring more efficient architectures that use cognative radios to take better advantage of all available spectrum, because we don't allow that). These radio waves have particularly good penetration characteristics that allow them to send signals through such common barriers as wet leaves or building walls for relatively low energy cost. As a result, the most intense interest, for both licensed and unlicensed, revolves around the bands between 3 GHz and 500 MHz.

    Hence the huge interest in the upcomming AWS Auction, which begins August 9. The FCC has confirmed 168 bidders (you can find the public notice here and the list of bidders here. A quick perusal reveals that, in addition the usual cellular suspects, the DirecTV and Echostar have formed a joint partnership and a number of cable companies have come to play. Judging by the bidding credits they paid for (the FCC requires a submission of an “upfront” payment to show you are good for the money), these companies have come to bid in a serious way.

    The AWS band includes licenses in 1.710-1.755 GHz and 2.110-2.155 GHz bands. You can get the full info on the balnd plan and service at the FCC's AWS web page. The band therefore lies in the “sweet spot” for wireless broadband. The FCC hasn't auctioned such a nice chunk of spectrum for some time, and won't auction anything like this again until the broadcasters return the analog television spectrum (scheduled for February 2009, although the auction will take place in 2008). Hence the huge interest by players looking either to deliver broadband by wireless (DBS companies), or possibly looking to prevent others from delivering broadband by wireless and cutting into their wireline business (cable companies). It has also attracted bidders interested in new mobile services (cable companies, DBS companies) and those who want more of the same (existing wireless telephone incumbents).

    FCC auctions have a life cycle longer than the NBA playoffs and the World Cup combined, so although I will head off for vacation on August 9, the auction may still be going when I get back two weeks later. The auctions go for so long because they take place over multiple rounds in multiple markets, with dozens of paid consultants employed by the biggest bidders using huge amounts of computational power to outwit the FCC enforcement staff by using bids to illegally signal to allies how to divide up markets and keep out disruptive competitors.

    O.K., it's not the World Cup, it's really a very wonky version of Worlds of Warcraft.

    But one factor in figuring out who is likely to bid for what is a knowledge of who already has what spectrum holdings where. Some folks want to plug holes in their existing systems. Some want to supplement their holdings, and need to expand in particular geographic markets. Some will seek complementary holdings to their wireline facilities. In any event, knowing the spectrum allocation chart, and who holds what would be a big help.

    All of this is, I point out, public information (except for certain classified military allocations). Which is why all the big guys who can afford to collect it in dribs and drabs from the FCC and verify their truly awful record keeping with real world trade data willhave a huge edge in bidding strategy.

    Sadly, for the rest of the bidders, or for members of the public trying to follow along, it's back to free, up-to-date, easy to use; pick two of these three.