Chris Horne, chief technical officer of LBA Group, moderated an expert panel discussion earlier this month on the conundrum of squeezing more serviceable networking capacity from finite, congested spectrum. The discussion occurred at the 4G Wireless Evolution conference Feb. 1-3 in the Miami Convention Center.

Members of the three-person panel were Thomas Knippen, who is vice president and general manager at Benton Ridge Telephone Company and W.A.T.C.H. TV; Greg Williams, senior VP for corporate and business development at BelAir Networks; and Jeff Kohler, co-founder of JAB Wireless, Inc. and responsible for merger, acquisition and corporate development activities.

A technical examination of licensed and unlicensed spectrum was carried out before an audience of about 40 wireless operators, venture capitalists and technologists. The panelists weighed in on two corollary questions: how can wireless congestion be mitigated, and is the better answer in parsing available spectrum or creating new technology?

Their conclusion: a combination of technology and spectrum management is necessary.

“There was a consensus that unlicensed spectrum is here to stay,” Horne says. “Both WiFi hotspots and small and large companies who deploy unlicensed networks will be a part of planning to improve the wireless experience.”

One panelist observed that for a company to utilize “WiFi” does not always mean deploying it. Rather, a company might use unlicensed frequency bands for distributing and backhauling traffic for experimental work or partner with carriers to offload cell traffic.

The industry fully recognizes that wireless network congestion is a genuine problem to be addressed by development of new equipment and technology. To get by at the moment, AT&T is using carrier WiFi to offload traffic in the unlicensed spectrum. Heterogeneous Networks—HetNets—have a crucial role in enhancing capacity. Some fixed wireless operators are partnering with mobile wireless carriers to offer complementary off-loading and backhauling of internet traffic.

All internet service providers are reeling from the data explosion. Consequently, unlicensed ISPs and licensed ones are eying one another to meet their disparate needs. The time may be ripe for partnerships.

Management of the radio spectrum was viewed by panelists as two forces at play: regulation of spectrum versus the “market.” It was noted that cloud services like Apple iCloud and Google music require even more bandwidth and high throughput. That led to the suggestion that a combination of regulated “white spaces” and unlicensed offload might be the best way to mitigate the capacity issue

Panelists also weighed in on the use and practicality of TV white spaces in rural areas where unlicensed space is not congested. Rural areas have better propagation conditions, one panelist noted, but the technology right now does not have any special performance incentives. Panelists talked of the various tradeoffs involved and concluded TV white spaces are an option but not a preeminent one.

Some current WiFi developments were touched on by the panel. It was noted that chip maker Broadcom announced plans for “gigabit WiFi” device, two and three times faster for the 5 GHz band. Unconfirmed reports surfaced about mobile equipment and services supplier Ericsson purchasing BelAir Networks, which provides strand-mounted picocell devices for the unlicensed bands for carrier offload. The Japanese operator KDDI claimed that its new free WiFi network with Android smartphones reaches 10,000 locations and will scale to 100,000 locations by March.

A specialist in wireless system engineering, Horne is a veteran of such discussions as this one. He was a panelist last fall at a 4G World conference in Chicago where splitting and rebranding spectrum was dissected for conference attendees.  Horne is leading another conference presentation in April at a Minnesota State Wireless Association event entitled “The Future of Wireless.”

Panelists (from left) were Chris Horne, Tom Knippen, Greg Williams, and Jeff Kohler

About The Author

LBA Group, Inc. has 50 years of experience in providing RF asset solutions and risk management for industrial and telecommunications infrastructure assets. The group is comprised of LBA Technology, a leading manufacturer and integrator of radio frequency systems, lightning protection, and EMC equipment for broadcast, industrial and government users worldwide; the professional engineering consultancy Lawrence Behr Associates, and LBA University, providing on-site and online professional training. The companies are based in Greenville, N.C., USA.

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