The fight over a new Wi-Fi channel is coming to a head

Globalstar says it can open up another Wi-Fi channel, but with some conditions

Globalstar’s plan to open a new Wi-Fi channel under its control is nearing the moment of truth after years of regulatory wrangling.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission is considering Globalstar’s plan, and a vote could come at any time. News reports suggest it might be close.

If Globalstar gets its way, Wi-Fi users in the U.S. will have one more channel, which could reduce congestion and improve performance. But both their mobile devices and the hotspots they use would need firmware upgrades to take advantage of the new frequency, and the channel wouldn’t necessarily be open to everyone.

Globalstar’s plan is to make a fourth channel available in the unlicensed, often crowded 2.4GHz band used for Wi-Fi in the U.S. While users in some other countries have been enjoying this channel for years, part of it has been set aside in the U.S. as a guard band to protect Globalstar’s satellite frequencies.

The company wants to use that guard band for a Wi-Fi-based service instead. Most Wi-Fi devices in the U.S. could be modified to tap into the extra channel.

Though that sounds like a generous move, it would come with a catch. Unlike all other Wi-Fi channels, which are open to any FCC-approved device and don’t require pemission, this one would be under Globalstar’s control.

What that would mean isn’t clear yet. The company plans to use the channel for what it calls a TLPS (Terrestrial Low-Power Service) network. But buyers of Wi-Fi devices and routers would need to get upgrades to use this special band. And a carrier that makes a deal with Globalstar might be able to set that channel aside for its own subscribers.

The plan has come under sharp criticism during the lengthy approval process at the FCC.

Microsoft, Google, the cable industry and backers of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth all have filed comments urging the agency not to approve the TLPS scheme. The Bluetooth Special Interest Group says tests at the FCC have shown TLPS would interfere with Bluetooth, which already uses part of the channel. The group also says it would be dangerous to give one company a different set of rules for unlicensed spectrum while thousands more follow the standard regulations.

“You don’t want to privatize Wi-Fi,” said analyst Roger Entner of Recon Analytics. Any change in the ground rules would open up a Pandora’s box, potentially confusing consumers and causing other big Wi-Fi operators, like cable companies, to demand their own channel, he said.

Globalstar declined to comment on the FCC proceedings. It has said the TLPS network would not disrupt other uses of the spectrum.

If this fight sounds familiar, it’s because another company, LightSquared, proposed its own plan a few years ago to use satellite spectrum for a land-based network. It, too, faced criticism over interference, in that case with GPS (global positioning system). The FCC shot down LightSquared’s plan.

Why do satellite companies keep trying to use their frequencies for other things? Because the FCC set aside those bands for satellite services years ago when no one knew cellular would end up covering so much of the country.

“You didn’t expect mllions of base stations to be deployed,” Tolaga Research analyst Phil Marshall said.

Now that more than 90 percent of the U.S. population is covered by cell networks, the satellite market is limited to the military, certain industries and a few hard-core users.

But Globalstar may end up succeeding where LightSquared failed. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler supports the company’s plan, giving it a big political boost. The appetite for more Wi-Fi spectrum, even through a new and complicated scheme, is one of the strongest forces in wireless these days.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags WiFi

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Stephen Lawson

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Brand Post

Bitdefender 2019

Taking cybersecurity to the highest level and order now for a special discount on the world’s most awarded and trusted cybersecurity. Be aware without a care!

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?