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700 MHz Explained in 10 Steps

Last week we reported on the web giants Google, Yahoo and eBay setting aside their differences and joining forces with satellite television providers, demanding that they should have some say in what the FCC does with the 700 MHz spectrum.

The spectrum, currently owned by broadcasters, has been used for analog television. But it is set to be turned over to the government in 2009. Due to its broadcast-attractive physics (like its ability to penetrate walls), this spectrum is desirable for both broadband communications in general and public-safety uses in particular.

The FCC has described the 700 MHz as beachfront property, and has talked up the broadband capabilities of this spectrum swath. About 60 MHz of the former UHF (TV) spectrum is going to be reclaimed by the U.S. government and will be reallocated for public safety and commercial broadband networks. The TV channels using this spectrum are going to go dark on Feb. 19, 2009, if all continues as planned.

This is going to be an area of active debate for months to come, and we have prepared a little cheat sheet for you to better understand the past, the present and the future of 700 MHz.

1. The 700 MHz band is divided into two categories – the lower 700 MHz band and the upper 700 MHz band. The lower band is 48 MHz while upper band is 60 MHz.

2. In 2002, FCC re-allocated the 698-746 MHz band (Lower 700 MHz band) that was originally used by TV Channels 52-59. The upper band was for TV Channels 60-69. The reallocations come as FCC pushes hard for the television business to transition to DTV.

3. This is all part of the Ultra High Frequency (UHF) band, which once inspired a movie, UHF, starring Weird Al Yankovic and Michael Richards of Seinfeld. A large swathe of UHF spectrum has been reallocated for different uses. (#)

4. Aloha Partners is the largest owner of lower band 700 MHz spectrum. Qualcomm is another owner of this slice of the spectrum, and is currently deploying its MediaFLO Mobile TV network over these frequencies. Aloha has a plan to use former channels 54 and 59 for its HiWire Mobile TV.

5. In February 2006, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 216-214 and approved a budget package that would require analog television broadcasters to clear the 700 MHz airwaves on Feb. 17, 2009. President George W. Bush signed the transition package into law and approved $1.2 billion in funding for public safety communications.

6. Of the total 60 MHz, 24 MHz of the spectrum is reserved for public safety, while rest is going to be auctioned off. The auctions are expected to fetch $10 billion, though the total could hit the $30 billion mark.

7. Frontline Wireless, a company co-founded by former FCC chairman Reed Hundt, wants to build a contiguous nationwide broadband public safety network that uses 12 MHz from public safety spectrum, and 10 MHz from the commercial spectrum. Frontline rival Cyren Call Communications, started by Nextel founder Morgan O’Brien, has proposed a similar network but that uses 30 MHz of the 60 MHz that is part of the commercial spectrum. Cyren Call wants the government to award it the spectrum, while Frontline plans to bid competitively.

8. How will current analog TV users still get signals once the switch is made? Via set-top converter boxes, which the government will help pay for (each household will be able to apply for two $40 vouchers). This could be the biggest fly in the auction ointment, especially if the transition looks like it won’t go smoothly. Already, the administration is drawing criticism for dragging its feet. Watch for TV commercials to start soon.

9. Alcatel-Lucent have developed a CDMA 2000 system that uses the 700 MHz frequencies and is targeted at the public safety agencies. It has push to talk and multimedia capabilities.

10. According to some estimates, the cost of building a nationwide wireless network over the 700 MHz spectrum is around $2 billion versus a nationwide 1900MHz PCS that costs approximately $4 Billion. The costs are lower in rural areas, due to less interference issues and wide-open spaces. That’s because each tower broadcasting at 700MHz covers twice as many square miles. Some estimates say that a single 700 MHz tower can cover 20-miles. (#)

Further reading: Mobile Radio Technology, Daily Wireless.

113 Responses to “700 MHz Explained in 10 Steps”

  1. I believe the key in this delima is how we modulate the signals in these particular bands. The modification of MIMO antennas and modification 802.xx protocols using better OPSK modulations will intertwine themselves into the 700mhz ring of play.

  2. In cities, already well-covered by existing cellular infrastructure, it is less reasonable to designate this band for cellular. However, it is useful as it penetrates further into buildings than higher frequencies. I believe that text-messaging services, and other low-bandwidth applications which require high reliability, are the best use of this band. Perhaps part of the 700 mhz could be used for control signals in cellular applications, to help the phone find a working channel in which to send its data (voice content and other high-bandwidth applications such as video).

  3. So this is where all the overly smart people hide

    I haven’t heard so much, yet learned so very little, in quite some time…

    “…maximize their spectrum by re-using the same frequency blocks/pairs in non-adjacent cells.”

    “It can be done with a positive business case but it’s not the ideal spectrum for a high traffic dense urban demand set.”

    “Depending on coding/modulation techniques and associated quantization that will be employed in the 700 MHz range, both spectral effeciency and hence overall throughput can be improved.”

    “Frequency reuse and self interference are a real issue. My company has been particularly plagued by tropospheric ducting (a phenomenon created by atmospheric temperature inversion).”

  4. What is with the public safety chunk and so much of it? I do not see were that much is needed. I am upset with the FCC and things like in band digital radio. Never years ago would the FCC have approved HD radio using in band as they have.
    Internet over power lines is another thing they should have laughed at like it was a joke.
    With the digital switch i know many people that have TV now but will not with the TV switch to Digital. They will be forced to go to satellite TV and many people because of trees ect. cannot do that.
    In my home in over 30 years of off air tv i have never had loss of analog signal but now with Digital it cuts out sometimes for hours.
    It is not because i do not have a good antenna because i have the best and a super low noise booster. I have tried many and am using what works best. They were analog UHF channels as are the digital ones.

  5. 700mhz? Too bad it isnt as easy as it was back in the analog days of the 800mhz… heard some very interesting conversations via the radio shack scanner back then. anyone recall those days?

  6. we just got an offer from our mobile carrier. they have a tower on our land that they lease from us. they want to buy the lease for $100,000 for 40 years. even if the carrier merges or collapses, they would still pay us for the lease. is this a good idea, or should we hold out for something better?? just curious. if anyone can help, please. thx.