Globalstar's plan for an extra Wi-Fi band draws fire

Wi-Fi and Bluetooth backers say the proposal might hurt performance, but Globalstar says it won't

A satellite operator's proposal to offer an extra channel of Wi-Fi might actually give average Wi-Fi and Bluetooth users less bandwidth, according to some industry groups that have commented on the plan in filings to the FCC.

The plan by Globalstar, proposed to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission in November, calls for opening up a restricted part of the Wi-Fi band for a fourth usable channel, called Channel 14. But Globalstar would control who could use that channel. It might offer access in a variety of ways, including its own Wi-Fi networks, carrier partnerships and device firmware downloads.

Monday was the deadline for filing comments to the FCC on Globalstar's plan, and the Wi-Fi Alliance, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group and other industry entities have voiced concerns about the proposal. They fear it effectively would let the company license spectrum that is defined as unlicensed.

Globalstar said the groups' concerns were unfounded. But the debate highlights the growing importance of Wi-Fi for home, office and service-provider networks. Wi-Fi has large amounts of spectrum allocated to it in both the 2.4GHz and the 5.8GHz bands, but even that capacity is often overwhelmed by demand in densely populated locations. Last week, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski proposed adding 195MHz of additional spectrum to Wi-Fi in the U.S. by having unlicensed uses share the space with federal agencies.

Part of the 2.4GHz spectrum is available for Wi-Fi use under the IEEE 802.11 standard, but it is "lying fallow" in the U.S. because there aren't enough frequencies to provide another non-overlapping channel, Globalstar General Counsel and Vice President Barbee Ponder said. The very top of the unlicensed band, which is adjacent to Globalstar's satellite spectrum, is restricted from Wi-Fi use in order to protect that licensed band. In November, Globalstar asked the FCC to let it use that spectrum, first for special Wi-Fi networks and later, possibly, for a 4G LTE system.

Consumers with the additional Wi-Fi channel might get to use Wi-Fi in more places and get higher performance. Current Wi-Fi chips would be able to use that band with a firmware upgrade, Globalstar said. If it gets permission to use the spectrum, Globalstar at first wants to set up a TLPS (terrestrial low-power service) in schools and hospitals, using Wi-Fi gear with the extra channel.

However, Globalstar's plan would remove what has effectively been a "guard band" that protects Globalstar's licensed frequencies from Wi-Fi, the Wi-Fi Alliance said in a comment filed with the FCC. The OOBE (out of band emissions) rules associated with the proposal, which are designed to prevent interference between networks, could reduce Wi-Fi spectrum for users without the special band, the Alliance said. Specifically, those rules could force Wi-Fi users off Channel 11, the next Wi-Fi band down from Channel 14, the group said. Because channels overlap, there effectively are only three usable Wi-Fi channels in the 2.4GHz band, so losing Channel 11 would be significant.

Though it didn't ask the FCC to reject Globalstar's proposal, the Wi-Fi Alliance said it wants the agency to address several concerns as it studies the plan. For example, if new filters are needed to prevent interference with Globalstar's services, that could raise the cost of Wi-Fi products, the group said.

On Monday, Bluetooth's industry group also filed papers asking the FCC to take a close look at how the plan would affect its technology. Bluetooth devices are allowed to operate in part of the spectrum that Globalstar wants to use for its special Wi-Fi channel. The Bluetooth SIG is worried that Globalstar's plan will force Bluetooth devices to back off from those frequencies.

Meanwhile, the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, a group of service providers that offer access over Wi-Fi and other unlicensed technologies, filed a comment with similar concerns to the Wi-Fi Alliance's.

Globalstar said on Monday that the Wi-Fi Alliance had misunderstood its proposal. Though Globalstar would be able to stop other service providers from introducing new services in the Channel 14 spectrum, it would coexist with uses already in the band, Globalstar's Ponder said. The plan would have no effect on any gear currently using that spectrum, and it wouldn't raise costs, he said.

"We're not aware of any updates or changes in any of the equipment currently operating on 1, 6 and 11 that would need to be done ... so that we can provide TLPS," Ponder said. Within the band itself, Bluetooth is the only wireless system Globalstar is aware of, and it could easily coexist with Globalstar's Wi-Fi channel without any changes, he said. Bluetooth has too short a range and too low a transmitting power to cause interference, he said.

Globalstar is due to file formal responses to the comments by Jan. 29.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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Tags regulationNetworkingBluetooth Special Interest GroupwirelessWi-Fi AlliancegovernmentWLANs / Wi-FiGlobalstar

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