US moves to free up spectrum for passengers

The US spectrum regulator is planning to release 500MHz of radio spectrum for aircraft backhaul in a bid to encourage cheaper connectivity for passengers.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed auctioning 500MHz of bandwidth, starting at 14GHz, to backhaul airline data and make in-flight browsing more affordable.

Industry observers say the band will likely be auctioned off, perhaps in two chunks of 250MHz to encourage rival networks which will need to be careful that they avoid fixed-satellite services already operating in the band.

The FCC posted this Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, proposing to ‘further increase the availability of broadband services onboard aircraft by establishing an air-ground mobile broadband service by which passengers aboard civil and government aircraft can connect to a full range of communications services while flying over the contiguous United States’.

“Consumers increasingly demand ubiquitous broadband connectivity, even on airplanes. Demand continues to rise, with predictions that the number of aircraft offering broadband service will rise from approximately 3,000 in 2012 to 15,000 by 2021,” said the FCC.

It said the establishment of air-ground mobile broadband service could help satisfy this demand. This air-ground mobile broadband service would operate in the 14.0-14.5 GHz band, on a secondary, non-interference basis with Fixed-Satellite Service (FSS) Earth-to-space communications.

“The key to such band sharing is spatial diversity, with FSS earth station antennas oriented to the south and above the horizon, air-ground mobile broadband base stations oriented to the north, and air-ground mobile broadband aircraft stations oriented below the horizon,” states the FCC.

“Air-ground mobile broadband would be required to protect primary FSS in the band from harmful interference, and would be required to accommodate other Federal and non-Federal users in the band. We ground our proposals in this proceeding in part on the service proposed by Qualcomm, Inc. (Qualcomm) in a Petition for Rulemaking filed on July 7, 2011”

“We believe our proposal would significantly increase the amount of spectrum available for the provision of wireless broadband to airborne aircraft, helping to meet rising demand for such services,” concludes the FCC.

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Posted in Airlines, Communications, News

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