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Wireless Technology and Spectrum Demand: Advanced Wireless Services

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Abstract:

Advances in wireless telecommunications technology are converging with Internet technology to foster new generations of applications and services. Presently, the United States and other countries are moving to third-generation (3G) and fourth-generation mobile telephony. The defining feature of these technologies is that transmission speeds are significantly faster than prevailing technology, making it possible to provide services such as high speed access to the Internet and to receive broadcast television programs.

A related trend is the growth in use of Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity) and WiMAX (an industry designation for a specific broadband standard). Wi-Fi uses local wireless networks for high-speed mobile access to the Internet. WiMAX has a broader range of distance. 3G could be described as bringing Internet capabilities to wireless mobile phones; Wi-Fi as providing wireless Internet access for laptop computers; and WiMAX as expanding networks with wireless links to fixed locations. The technologies are seen by some as competing for customers and by others as complementary -- providing a broader base and greater choice of devices for wireless communications and networking. From the perspective of spectrum management, a significant difference in the technologies is that 3G and WiMAX services operate on designated, licensed frequencies, while Wi-Fi shares unlicenced spectrum with other technologies. As the markets for Wi-Fi and WiMAX develop, wireless carriers have become concerned about the competitive impact on their businesses when municipalities offer wireless broadband services. In the 109th Congress a bill to restrict municipal communications services, H.R. 2726 (Representative Sessions), and a bill that would guarantee the right of local governments to provide advanced communications services (S. 1294, Senator Lautenberg) have been introduced. The Broadband Investment and Consumer Choice Act (S. 1504, Senator Ensign) contains a provision that would require states or localities to submit plans to offer communications services to competitive bidding. The Digital Age Communications Act of 2005 (S. 2113, Senator DeMint) would bar states from engaging in unfair competition with commercial providers of communications services. This report will be updated.