FCC moves to streamline wireless buildout

Plans call for bolstering use of new small cells and other technology

The Federal Communications Commission announced plans Friday to help streamline wireless broadband buildout in the U.S., including clarification of a provision requiring local review of modifications to cell towers.

Other initiatives include launching an FCC review of ways to expedite the placement of temporary cell towers such as Cells on Wheels (COWs) that can be used during special events such as the presidential inauguration, where thousands of cell-phone users in a crowded area can sap wireless capacity.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski also said there will be further FCC actions in 2013 to streamline the deployment of small cells and distributed antenna systems that can boost wireless connections in areas between larger cell towers or in neighborhoods where tall buildings block wireless connections.

Part of the purpose of the FCC's initiatives is to give more certainty and flexibility to the wireless industry, which has invested more than $25 billion each year in mobile infrastructure, Genachowski said in a statement.

"Just as is the case for our nation's roads and bridges, we must continue to invest in improvements in cell towers and transmission equipment in order to ensure ubiquitous, high-speed Internet for all Americans," he said.

He said FCC policies must adapt to technological advances that can help the wireless build-out. These advances include small cells, a catch-all term for a range of smaller antennas that can be attached to light poles and buildings to supplement larger antennas on towers, which are expensive to build and can raise concerns from nearby residents and businesses.

As part of the announcement, the FCC clarified a technical provision in the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 that called for review by local governments and planning agencies of modifications to existing cell towers and base stations (usually, the equipment at the base of the towers).

The FCC didn't specify the terms of the clarification it made but said the change would accelerate deployment of high-speed mobile broadband. Local review processes for cell towers and related infrastructure can take months or years, and shortening that period has been a priority at the FCC.

Fridays's announcement comes four days after President Obama's inaugural address, which mentioned the need for improved roads and networks that will bring new jobs and businesses to the U.S.

Also Friday, AT&T announced plans to buy 700MHz spectrum from Verizon for $1.9 billion to help AT&T deploy 4G LTE to 42 million people in 18 states and meet mobile broadband demand from smartphones and tablets.

Friday's actions are part of the FCC's Broadband Acceleration Initiative. That program, and the Connect America Fund, which the FCC set up in 2012, stem from the National Broadband Plan, an ambitious and broad set of steps for faster wired and wireless service in the U.S. that includes allocating more spectrum to wireless carriers.

Attaining high-speed mobile broadband usually refers to attempts to upgrade 3G wireless service to 4G LTE or 4G HSDPA, which is generally 10 times faster than 3G. That means, on average, increasing downlink speeds from 1 Mbps under 3G to 10 Mbps with 4G.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

See more by Matt Hamblen on Computerworld.com.

Read more about mobile/wireless in Computerworld's Mobile/Wireless Topic Center.

Tags Gov't Legislation/RegulationMobile/Wirelesswireless carriersFederal Communications CommissionWheelsNetworkingregulationwirelessgovernmentmobile

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