With a new administration in town and a new chairman on the bench, it has been rather quiet at the FCC. Meanwhile, America waits to learn what this administration's focus will be. Something that has been brewing for a while, however, just got a little closer to fruition.
Last May the FCC published a notice of proposed rule making (NPRM) in which it proposed, and requested comments on, feasible ways to regulate ultra wide band (UWB) technology and products. Because a portion of this new UWB technology will most likely operate in the restricted government bands, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the Associated Institute for Telecommunication Sciences were recruited to research the effect of UWB devices on federal radio systems. NTIA's reports were recently published and are currently going through the notice and comment period.
UWB devices are proposed to be regulated under Part 15 of the FCC's rules regarding unlicensed devices. The current rules regarding intentional radiators are insufficient to deal with the novel concepts of UWB. Under Part 15, intentional radiators are only permitted to operate under a set of strict emission limits, which preclude operation in certain restricted bands and in television broadcast bands.
UWB devices, on the other hand, may operate in restricted bands and television broadcast bands. Part 15 emission measurement procedures were designed to govern the use of narrowband transmitters. By its very name, UWB operates on very wide bands that would be difficult to measure under the current scheme.
The greatest obstacle faced by these devices is the fact that they do operate in restricted bands. Therefore, NTIA and the FCC want to make sure that the devices will not cause harmful interference to federal equipment operating between 400 MHz and 6.0 GHz; especially GPS equipment.
What is ultra wide band?
UWB devices are intended to operate on already occupied spectrum without causing harmful interference. UWB devices have low spectral power density and in general use very short carrierless pulses over a wide swath of spectrum usually exceeding 1 GHz. The FCC has not yet accepted a definition of UWB for regulatory purposes. However, in the NPRM, the FCC stated that its proposed definition for UWB devices is, “any device where the fractional bandwidth is greater than 0.25 or occupies 1.5 GHz or more of spectrum.”
UWB devices can reportedly see images of objects buried underground or imbedded in walls. UWB devices can be used to measure distances or locations of objects. UWB can also be used for short-range high-speed data.
The greatest attribute of UWB devices is spectrum efficiency. The ability to operate in already encumbered spectrum without causing harmful interference to existing users is a highly desirable trait within the crowded radio spectrum. Clearly, with UWB's touted potential-there are many parties interested in the outcome of this rule making.
Through conversations with an FCC employee working on this matter, I have found out that the FCC has the daunting task of sifting through all of the comments on its own NPRM and the comments to NTIA's reports. The FCC will use this wealth of information to adjust the permissible parameters in which UWB devices will be permitted to operate; parameters such as unit pulse rate and average and peak emission levels.
The FCC and NTIA must also come into agreement over permissible parameters because it is mainly the federal government's spectrum that will be used after all. Anticipating timely “negotiations” between NTIA and the FCC, the FCC has set an ambitious timeline and hopes to go to the report-and-order phase this summer.
It would not be surprising if going to the report-and-order phase takes longer than hoped. Nor would it be surprising if the FCC decides to be conservative in its rules. It may take some time and a few rule waivers before any truly liberal rules (and subsequent waivers) are enacted. But no one really knows until the pen is put to paper and the rules are written.
Delaney M. DiStefano is a senior associate with the law firm of Schwaninger & Associates, P.C. Ms. DiStefano is a member of the New York State and District of Columbia Bars and an active member of the Federal Communications Bar Association. Ms. DiStefano's primary practice is in wireless telecommunications and she is a veteran of several FCC auctions.