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Could the wireless spectrum crisis resolve the Sirius XM/WCS radio band interference crisis?

source: FCC

Fifteen members of the House of Representatives, all Democrats serving rural areas, have written to the Federal Communications Commission urging them to get on the ball regarding a big chunk of wireless spectrum in the 2.3 GHz area that needs new rules. Developers want to get some WiMAX action going in said Wireless Communications Services (WCS) band. And Sirius XM satellite radio is involved in the story. First, here’s the reps’ statement:

“The 2.3 GHz WCS spectrum has been mostly sitting fallow for over a decade in large part because final technical rules have not been adopted,” they wrote. “Until final rules exist, equipment manufacturers and wireless network operators cannot offer consumers cost-effective wireless mobile broadband services. In rural areas, where the need for these services is particularly acute, it is critical we make spectrum available without further delay.”

The Dems include the member of Congress with my favorite name: Zack Space of Ohio.

What does this have to do with Sirius XM? If you followed the Great Debate over the proposed and now consummated merger of the Sirius and XM satellite radio services, you know that most of the issues associated with that marriage have now been resolved. But not all. First, the FCC still has to figure out who gets those “qualified entity” (minority oriented) channels that the merger parties promised to allocate as a public interest requirement. Well over a year after the merger, that still hasn’t been worked out.

Then there’s the ongoing struggle between Sirius and the wireless industry over the so-called spectrum band, which is reserved for pinpoint accurate wireless transmission. What’s the problem here? Well, look at this handy little graphic produced by the FCC (top left), plus this table we’ve produced just for your benefit (you’re welcome). As you can see, Sirius XM is plunked right in the middle of the WCS bands. It’s got that red Digitial Audio Radio Satellite (DARS) band in the middle of the graphic.

WCS and Sirius XM bands
WCS Sirius XM WCS
Band (MHz) 2305-2320 2320-2345 2345-2360

So there’s been a huge amount of debate, much of it quite contentious, about whether WCS activity interferes or could interfere with Sirius XM transmissions. Sirius insists that various coexistence scenarios proposed by the WCS Coalition pose a threat. The coalition, which represents the spectrum area’s owners (among them AT&T, Comcast, and NextWave) say that Sirius’ claims are exaggerated.

This fight has been going on since even before Sirius proposed to acquire XM. I can’t say I understand why it’s taken so long for the FCC to get a handle on it. But help seems to be on the way. Now there’s a “looming spectrum crisis,” according to the Commission. Big wireless warns its running out of the bandwidth it needs to handle the enormous surge in smartphone demand. Even the agency’s Chair Julius Genachowski says it’s a top challenge and crucial to expanding broadband deployment across the country.

So now making more wireless spectrum available is a big cause—Exhibit A that Congressional letter. Maybe this will put some fire under the FCC to get this issue out the door. Hope springs eternal.



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7 Responses to Could the wireless spectrum crisis resolve the Sirius XM/WCS radio band interference crisis?

  1. Mike Vogel December 28, 2009 at 6:45 pm #

    Does this explain serious Sirius reception problems on all Interstate highways on which I drive in and near Chicago?

  2. Matthew Lasar December 28, 2009 at 6:54 pm #

    Mike: Could be, but I’m not sure. Here’s an interesting comment to the FCC that came in from a consumer today about GSM cell phone interference with his Sirius reception. Here’s the FCC proceeding database on this issue, where you might find some connections to get more info. Please keep us posted on what you learn.

  3. Cybertrash March 8, 2010 at 8:53 pm #

    Good Job! Thanks, Do you have a opinion on this subject…..do u think it will disrupt sirius xm service?

  4. Matthew Lasar March 8, 2010 at 9:22 pm #

    Hey Cybertrash:

    Since we don’t actually know what the FCC’s plan is for peaceful existence between WCS and Sirius XM, it’s hard for me to say. As we reported last week, the FCC ran down their latest proposal to both sides on Tuesday, and Sirius CEO Mel Karmazin called it a dog. But without the blueprint in front of me and some assessments by relatively impartial engineers, I’m at a loss.

    Will say this, though . . . that WCS band needs to be unleashed for WiMAX style broadband. I agree with the general assessment that one sure road to faster mobile broadband speeds and cheaper prices is getting the wireless industry lots more spectrum. So that needs to happen, albeit without screwing up Sirius XM.

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