SANTA CLARA, Calif. A Federal Communications Commission director suggested the agency is exploring new ways to use a swath of spectrum to serve multiple users including utilities building smart electric grids as part of a national broadband plan the FCC will release March 17.
"Just looking at data growth for iPhones and other devices, you can see broadband in America will increasingly be a wireless solution, so spectrum will be a core issue we will be handling in the national broadband plan," said Nick Sinai, director of energy and environment on the National Broadband Task Force at the FCC.
Director of Energy and Environment on the Federal Communications Commission's
National Broadband Task Force
Canadian regulators recently set aside spectrum around 1.8 GHz for utilities building smart grids. At the Grid ComForum where the FCC official spoke, a handful of vendors discussed their use of cellular Wi-Fi, WiMax as well as 900 and 700 MHz links for smart grid projects.
Sinai said the FCC held discussions with Canadian regulators, but suggested their solution was not well suited to the U.S. for several reasons. The U.S. has a much higher population and a more complex set of existing commercial networks regulated by the FCC and federal networks regulated by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.
"It's clear there's no one system for the smart grid, so certainly we're going to make sure the plan that comes out March 17 will stress there is no one answer,": Sinai said. Similarly in terms of applications, "we have a spectrum crisis, so we don't want to look at this in a smart-grid only way," he said.
"There are a number of different options on the table" for spectrum use under the FCC's national broadband plan, Sinai said. "As we're thinking about ways to clear or share federal spectrum we want to think about it in context of all the possible uses of that spectrum," he added.
The spectrum issue is a highly contentious one, said Katherine Hamilton, president of the Gridwise Alliance, a lobbying group of smart-grid vendors who chaired a panel on which Sinai spoke.
"We have about 200 members but this issue is one we have taken off the table because we cannot get consensus on it," she said.
At CES FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said the agency needs to find more spectrum and make sure existing allocations are being used efficiently.