ITU Still Divided on 2.5-GHz Band Sharing

BOSTON (05/23/2000) - Delegates to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) World Radio Conference in Istanbul remain strongly divided on whether to permit next-generation mobile operations in the fixed wireless band as the conference enters its third week. MCI WorldCom Inc. and Sprint Corp. have spent billions of dollars to acquire licenses for that spectrum.

According to the ITU, "strong support and equally strong opposition" remain to permitting mobile operation in the 2.5-GHz band that MCI WorldCom and Sprint plan to use to deliver "last-mile" broadband services to business and residential customers.

Countries of the European Union strongly back the new use for 2.5 GHz, viewing it as the "prime candidate band" for next-generation mobile services, according to the ITU. Other countries, including the U.S., have "great concerns with this band because of sharing difficulties with existing systems," according to an ITU statement.

David Hawley, an analyst at The Yankee Group in Boston, said it hasn't been proven that mobile and fixed wireless services can co-exist simultaneously in the single band. "Even if (they) can, what will it cost in terms of equipment?

You need to look at the costs and benefits" of the sharing proposal, he said.

Andrew Kreig, president of the Wireless Communications Association International in Washington, spent last week at the WRC in Istanbul and said "it's too early in the game to tell" what the delegates will decided on the contentious 2.5-GHz issue. The association is a trade group representing the fixed wireless industry.

Roger Marks, director of the National Wireless Electronic System Testbed in Boulder, Colorado, which is operated by the National Institutes of Standards and Technology and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, said that it "is not clear what this proposal would do to fixed service licenses. . . . The U.S would not be required to follow any ITU plan on this, but there certainly would be pressure to do so."

The U.S delegation to the ITU supports "studying" the use of mobile services in the 2.5-GHz bands, and Marks said, "if the U.S. (fixed-wireless) frequencies were allocated to mobile use, something would have to be done to accommodate existing license holders. No one knows how this will turn out. I don't know of any plans in place."

Marks said that the 2.5-GHz bands have great importance "to the competitive telecommunications market in the U.S. . . . and it is important to understand the critical role (they) play in the overall telecommunications future of the nation." MCI WorldCom has argued that the wealth of fixed wireless licenses held by it and Sprint is a strong argument for the companies' proposed merger, saying a pooling of these licenses would provide the combined company with the technology needed to bypass local telephone carriers nationwide.

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