Taking its cue from its own National Broadband Plan, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is proposing to remove regulatory barriers to the use of microwave spectrum for wireless backhaul.  

 
“By enabling more flexible, cost-effective and high-capacity microwave services, the commission can help increase deployment of fourth-generation (4G) mobile broadband networks across America,” an agency statement said.
 
In part, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski commented, “The proposed rule changes may be particularly beneficial to rural areas, where microwave may be the only practical, high-capacity backhaul solution available to serve certain remote locations. With spectrum sharing, 750 megahertz of microwave spectrum may be made available for broadband backhaul or other advanced point-to-point uses.”
 
He also pointed out that microwave communications has become, in a growing number of situations, a viable option for backhaul of mobile broadband traffic. Backhaul costs currently constitute a significant portion of a mobile wireless operator’s network operating expense, and the demand for backhaul capacity is increasing; this certainly is one reason why cable operators should be thinking of using their fiber networks to sell such a service. In addition, as broadband providers ramp up their next-gen networks, they will require backhaul that can carry what is expected to be significant growth in mobile data traffic (for more on mobile data and wireless backhaul, see the upcoming September issue of Communications Technology magazine).  

The FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) explores ways to increase the flexibility, capacity and cost-effectiveness of the microwave bands below 13 GHz while protecting incumbent licensees in these bands (licensees include all sorts of satellite concerns, radio location and –astronomy, and space research). “In particular, the notice seeks to update regulatory classifications that may not have kept pace with the evolution of converged digital technologies and to provide for increased spectrum sharing,” the FCC wrote.

 
Here’s what the rest of the commissioners had to say:
 
>>Commissioner Robert McDowell: “This is an issue that I’ve been speaking about for some time now, most notably in November 2008 as part of the commission’s work on the TV white spaces proceeding, particularly in rural areas. I will continue to stay engaged on this issue, and look forward to learning more. In the meantime, I hope my colleagues agree that moving forward expeditiously in this proceeding, as well as in the white spaces proceeding, would be a win-win.”
 
>>Commissioner Michael Copps: “We have compiled and seriously considered a vast number of suggestions and proposals on wireless backhaul in crafting this item. I am hopeful that it will spark a robust dialogue on the best approaches to expand essential capacity and competitive choice in backhaul. I am especially appreciative that this item gives particular focus to the economic and geographic impediments working to isolate large parts of rural America from the full potential of broadband.
 
“Many rural areas have few, if any, real options for fiber backhaul, and increasingly rely on wireless backhaul to deliver the capacity needed for broadband. Admittedly, some of the difficulties facing these areas may be the result—at least in part—of out-dated regulatory policies that limit flexibility and competitive choice.”
 
>>Commissioner Mignon Clyburn: “One way to reduce the costs for backhaul transport for wireless providers is to create a regulatory environment that allows for more flexible use of microwave communications. Giving service providers more options on how they can use microwave communications, enhances their ability to find the most cost effective backhaul transport solutions for their respective business models.

"This item identifies a number of areas in which the Commission’s rules could encourage more flexible use of microwave communications of up to 750 megahertz of spectrum while proposing to protect incumbent operations and increase the flexibility of operations.”
 

The accompanying Notice of Inquiry (NOI) requests comment on further steps the FCC can take to reduce wireless backhaul costs and increase investment in broadband deployment. It asks for comment regarding changes in technical rules that would enable longer links in rural areas.
 
The NOI also inquires as to whether permitting use of smaller antennas could similarly reduce costs and stimulate investment.
 
Finally, the NOI seeks comment on whether the FCC should examine any additional modifications to its rules or policies to promote the flexible, efficient and cost-effective provision of wireless backhaul service.

In separate but related wireless news, industry pioneer James A. Dwyer Jr., 73, died last Friday evening at his home in Fort Myers, Fla.

 
“The entire wireless industry is saddened by the loss of Jim Dwyer,” said Dennis Strigl, retired president and COO of Verizon Communications and former president and CEO of Verizon Wireless. “I can’t think of an individual with a higher degree of integrity. Jim was a genuine, down-to-earth individual who kept growing businesses, and one of his strongest contributions was the honesty he brought to the business world. The people who worked for him and with him loved the man.”
 
One of the founding fathers of the cellular business worldwide, Dwyer was a lawyer and salesman best known for starting early cellular systems in several top U.S. markets, and working with colleagues and competitors to build a strong base for the young industry. American Cellular Telephone Corp., the system he launched in Indianapolis on Feb. 3, 1984, was the third cellular system in the country and the first built from the ground up for commercial service. The first two systems had been in experimental trials for several years.
 
Dwyer and his allies successfully convinced the FCC to allow independent paging operators and radio common carriers (RCCs) to build public cellular networks and compete with the monopoly wireline telephone company. At the time, many of these businesses were family-run operations licensed by the commission to provide private paging, answering, and early car telephone services.
 
In 1998, he received the prestigious Sarnoff Citation from the Radio Club of America. The award recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to the advancement of electronic communications.
 
 Dwyer was a founding member of CTIA-The Wireless Association, serving on its board from 1984 to 2000, part of that time as chairman.
 
“When we first discussed the notion of creating CTIA at a lunch with executives from several of the regional Bell companies, I looked around and thought that Jimmy was the guy I would most want to be in a fox hole with in that situation,” commented John Stanton, founder of Trilogy Partners and founder and former CEO of Western Wireless Corp. and VoiceStream Wireless. “He was a brilliant lawyer, but never intimidated anyone, and a strategic genius, but you never knew that until he had executed his strategy.”
 

Dwyer is survived by his wife Nancy as well as 12 children and 15 grandchildren. Funeral services are scheduled for Thursday in Fort Myers.

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