Land-based, or terrestrial, wireless broadband connects a home or business to the Internet using a radio link. Some wireless services are provided over unlicensed radio spectrum and others over radio spectrum that has been licensed to particular companies.
Wireless broadband offers consumers a new freedom — the ability to communicate and connect with the world anytime, anywhere:
- Consumers using wireless broadband technologies have the freedom to access the Internet from coffee shops, on moving trains, and in their own backyards.
- Consumers can access the Internet using a single device — to make phone calls, pay bills electronically, and access entertainment and data — all with a seamless high-speed wireless connection. One device now opens up the world.
- Using off-the-shelf equipment bought at their local electronics store, Americans now have the power to build their own, in-home wireless broadband networks, operating at speeds that, until recently, were far beyond reach.
- Technological advances in wireless are occurring at a rapid pace. While these technologies are powerful and often complex, they also bring a refreshing simplicity to our lives: laptops with built-in wireless capabilities can automatically locate all of the nearby hotspots, e-mail can be automatically forwarded to a handheld device, and we can now watch streaming video on a mobile phone.
- Communities large and small across the United States are getting connected to broadband — gaining access to a wealth of resources and opportunities not previously available.
Wireless broadband technologies also are helping to fuel the engines of the economy. Indeed, the impact of wireless technologies is magnified by their ability to be coupled with other communications technologies — including wireline, cable, broadband over power line, and satellite technologies — in ways that enable endless combinations of mixing and matching of technologies to suit the needs of different applications.
How it works
Wireless broadband technologies operating on licensed spectrum allow consumers to access the Internet at high speeds on a mobile, portable, or fixed basis using a mobile phone or a laptop computer with a wireless modem. Wireless broadband can play a key role in the deployment of broadband services. Because of the importance of wireless connectivity, radio frequency spectrum policy could be a critical factor in national broadband policy and planning.
In licensed bands, some companies are offering fixed wireless broadband throughout cities. Also, mobile telephone carriers — such as the large companies that provide traditional cell phone service — have begun offering broadband mobile wireless Internet service over licensed spectrum — a service that allows subscribers to access the Internet with their mobile phones or laptops in areas throughout cities where their provider supports the service. A variety of broadband access technologies and services also are provided on unlicensed spectrum — that is, spectrum that is not specifically under license for a particular provider’s network. For example, wireless Internet service providers may offer broadband access in particular areas by establishing a network of subscriber stations, each with its own antenna that relays signals throughout a neighborhood and has a common interface to the Internet. Subscribers place necessary reception equipment outside their homes that transmits and receives signals from the nearest antenna.
- Wi-Fi. Wireless fidelity (Wi-Fi) networks — which provide broadband service in so-called hot spots, or areas within a radius of up to 300 feet — can be found in cafes, hotels, airports, and offices. Such networks generally use a short-range technology that provides speeds up to 54 Mbps.
- 4G. Fourth Generation, i.e., 4G, wireless technology, now in the early stages of deployment, is expected to achieve broadband speeds as fast as 50 to 100 Mbps for a few users over an extended period of time or for short periods of time for many users. Some 4G technologies, such as Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMAX), can operate on either licensed or unlicensed bands, and can provide broadband service up to approximately 30 miles, but at that distance, data transmission rates would be low.
Wireless broadband, with its rich array of services and content, requires new spectrum capacity to accommodate growth. Spectrum capacity is necessary to deliver mobile broadband to consumers and businesses and also to support the communications needs of industries that use fixed wireless broadband to transmit large quantities of information quickly and reliably.
Legal status of wireless broadband
Wireless broadband services are subject to minimal regulation by the FCC. Wireless technologies that use unlicensed radio band spectrum (such as Wi-Fi and WiMAX) are subject to technical requirements in the FCC’s rules that are intended to prevent interference with FCC-licensed services. Advanced wireless services that use licensed spectrum (such as cellular phones, PDAs, and wireless modem cards) are subject to the relevant FCC rules for the particular licensing regime. The issue of whether wireless broadband will be subject to additional regulation has not been fully resolved.
The FCC’s Wireless Broadband Access Task Force addressed this issue in 2005 and recommended that the FCC “apply a deregulatory framework — one that minimizes regulatory barriers at both the federal and state levels — to wireless broadband services.” Accordingly, the Task Force recommended that the FCC consider classifying wireless broadband as an “information service.” Under the Communications Act, "information services" are not subject to the Communications Act’s Title II common carrier requirements for "telecommunications services." As noted by the Task Force, however, even with a deregulatory framework, it is likely that certain regulatory requirements will be imposed on wireless broadband technologies. One factor that may affect the regulation of wireless broadband is the possibility of federal legislation that would overhaul the Communications Act in order to address the convergence of telecommunications technologies.
- 47 C.F.R. Part 15.
- See generally FCC, Connected & on the Go, Broadband Goes Wireless, Report by the Wireless Broadband Access Task Force 14-15 (2005).
- Id. at 66.
- An "information service" is "the offering of a capability for generating, acquiring, storing, transforming, processing, retrieving, utilizing, or making available information via telecommunications. . . ." 47 U.S.C. §153(20). See also National Cable & Telecom. Ass’n v. Brand X Internet Servs., 545 U.S. 967, 125 S.Ct. 2688, 2697-98 (2005)(full-text) ("Brand X") (upholding FCC declaratory ruling that cable broadband is an “information” not a “telecommunications” service under the 1996 amendment to the Communications Act).
- A "telecommunications service" is "the offering of telecommunications for a fee directly to the public . . . regardless of the facilities used." 47 U.S.C. §153(46). "Telecommunications" is "the transmission, between or among points specified by the user, of information of the user’s choosing, without change in the form or content of the information as sent and received." Id. §153(43). See also Brand X, at 2697-98.
- FCC, Connected & on the Go, Broadband Goes Wireless, Report by the Wireless Broadband Access Task Force 67 (2005).
- See e.g., S. Res. 1504, 109th Cong., 1st Sess. §15 (2005). (“Broadband Investment and Consumer Choice Act of 2005").