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CHAPTER II - Communications Architecture Today and Tomorrow

The FCC’s stated broadband goal is to create “a high-performance America—a more productive, creative, efficient America in which affordable broadband is available everywhere and everyone has the means and skills to use valuable broadband applications.”[1] The FCC has set forth six benchmarks to achieve by the year 2020:

  1. Reach 100 million households with access to affordable broadband with actual download speeds of at least 100 Mbps and upload speeds of at least 50 Mbps.
  2. Lead mobile innovation, with the fastest and most extensive wireless networks in the world.
  3. Provide access to affordable, robust broadband service for every American and the means and skills to subscribe to such service.
  4. Provide access to affordable broadband service of at least 1 gigabit per second for every American in community anchor institutions such as schools, libraries, hospitals and government buildings.
  5. Provide access to a nationwide, wireless, interoperable broadband public safety network for first responders to ensure the safety of the American people.
  6. Enable Americans to have the broadband capability to track and manage their real-time energy consumption.

To achieve these goals, the FCC recommends promoting innovation through competition, more efficiently allocating and managing government assets, promoting broadband affordability through inclusion and maximizing the use of broadband in areas where government plays a significant role, such as health care, education, government performance, civic engagement, job training, economic development and public safety.[2]

An important aspect of achieving the FCC’s ambitious goals is the efficient allocation of spectrum. Richard Bennett, currently a network technology and policy consultant, recommends a grading system for spectrum policy actions in order to prioritize spectrum management.[3] The grading system would consist of ten factors:

  • Upgrade and Repack. This includes upgrading existing systems to increase their capacity and free up spectrum for other users. Upon upgrading, the spectrum would be available to meet changing needs.
  • Strive for Sharing. Since the most desirable spectrum allocations are those that can be used by large numbers of people, whether a policy encourages sharing is an important factor to consider. Commercial mobile networks like Verizon and AT&T are capable of supporting about 100 million users with 100 MHz of spectrum—one hertz per user. Broadcast television, however, uses about 10 hertz per user. Therefore, there are efficiencies to be gained through spectrum sharing based on whether spectrum is allocated for licensed or unlicensed use.
  • Reward Application Flexibility. Just as mobile and Wi-Fi networks are capable of hosting a variety of applications, which promote consumer choice, the most desirable spectrum allocations are those that are capable of being shared by many applications.
  • Optimize Dynamic Capacity Assignment. Bringing supply and demand into balance should be a priority for spectrum allocations. Modern networks meet demand by allowing flexible definitions of units of internal allocation.
  • Permit Technology Upgrade Flexibility. The ease with which an allocation can be upgraded is an important consideration when making a spectrum allocation.
  • Recognize Aggregation Efficiency. Spectrum allocations that minimize boundary waste should be a priority. These are large allocations that can support large user populations and diverse applications.
  • Create Facilities-Based Competition. A large number of networks produce competition that can be advantageous to consumers, but only up to a point. This goal should be balanced with the fact that a small number of networks can lead to more efficient sharing and investment.
  • Reward High-Performance Receivers. High-performance receivers optimize spectrum sharing by tuning into the signals that are intended for them while rejecting all other signals.
  • Allocate in all Relevant Dimensions. Traditional methods only allocate by frequency, power level and place, which don’t fully capture all the methods spectrum can be used. Spectrum allocations should recognize new dimensions of advanced technologies such as direction of transmission, beam spread, modulation, coding and time.
  • Promote New Technologies. Spectrum allocation should facilitate new technologies by allocating spectrum for the use of new technologies before their actual deployment.

Another important consideration in creating a high-performance broadband system for America is the extent and characteristics of the convergence of wired and wireless broadband access network architecture. Recent advancements in wireless networks allow some wireless networks to serve as Internet access platforms similar to those associated with wired networks. Some commentators are skeptical that wired and wireless networks will completely converge to a common architecture, or that wireless networks will likely converge on a common wireless architecture. These commentators identify several key differences between wired and wireless networks that make complete convergence unlikely, including capacity constraints topology constraints, reliability constraints and mobility. Further, wireless networks may not converge to a common wireless architecture because of the inherent heterogeneity and specialization of wireless networking.[4]


[1] Federal Communications Commission, The National Broadband Plan: Connecting America, “Chapter 2: Goals for a High Performance America” (2010), available at http://download.broadband.gov/plan/national-broadband-plan.pdf.

[2] Id.

[3] Richard Bennett, Technical Principles of Spectrum Allocation, September 2013. Available online at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2240625.

[4] William Lehr and John Chapin, On the Convergence of Wired and Wireless Action Network Architectures, Info. Econ. & Pol’y (Jan. 2010), http://businessinnovation.berkeley.edu/Mobile_Impact/Lehr_Chapin_IEP.pdf.

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