Federal Communications Commission

Connecting America’s Stories: A Faster, less Frustrating Future

June 24th, 2010 by Page Schindler Buchanan

This is the third in a series of three posts on spectrum and the National Broadband Plan, and your stories.

Innovation requires investment, and plenty of space to grow. Right now in America, we have the opportunity to secure that space – namely, spectrum – for generations to come. But given the rate of technological change, we need more than a plan for today, we need a plan for the future.

That plan must be built on a solid foundation of data, so the FCC has released a tool for consumers to measure their actual broadband speeds – and compile data speeds in the FCC’s national dataset. 

Jordan Usdan, Program Manager and Attorney Advisor, National Broadband Task Force

We’ve rolled out our initial two tools on, which allow you to measure your upload and download speed, your latency, which is the delay between your computer and the testing server, and also the jitter, which is the difference in the delay. 

And we’ve also released a mobile tool, so on iPhone and Android you can download the FCC app from their stores and you can get your download and upload speed and your latency on that as well, and test in different locations.

The actual performance of broadband has very real consequences for Americans.

Cherish in Mapleton, Minnesota

I currently have 'broadband'. My test results were 116k and I pay nearly $80 a month - I would call that neither broadband, nor affordable.  There have been literally no advances in my area in the past ten years and I often feel like I'm getting left behind culturally, socially and economically.

When I lived where I had high speed access I used to have a small online business. I had to give that up when I moved because I just don't have the extra time/patience it takes to upload photos or answer customer questions. I've come to dread Mondays 'around the water cooler' chats when everyone is discussing the latest viral video that I couldn't watch because my internet is too slow for it to load. I'm tired of living in one of the broadbandless ghettos of this great nation and any assistance would be greatly appreciated.

The National Broadband Plan’s spectrum team took a hard look at the future of broadband – especially mobile broadband. There are some exciting things happening that will shape the future of communications in our country. 

This video discusses the past and future of some cutting edge broadcast technologies.

One that is going on right now is the roll out of 4G – 4th Generation – mobile technology.

Tom Peters, Chief Engineer, FCC Wireless Telecommunications Bureau explains the migration from 1G to 4G.

We start with 1G and that was analog voice, a technology called amps.  It was very basic, beginning cellular telephone technology.

Then went to 2G and 2G really represented digitization of the cellular cycle.  It was still primarily voice, and it was still primarily what we call “circuit-switched,” meaning whenever you have a connection from your phone to the base station, you have a specific circuit and you have that circuit whether you are using that bandwidth or not.
3G offered some packetization of the resources [allowing information to be sent in “packets” and more people to use the same connection] – speeds got faster. 

When you go to 4G, what you’re getting to is the internet model, where everything is IP based, everything is packet based, even voice.  It’s a very simple architecture… compatible with the internet… without the need for intermediate steps.  With newer technologies they are able to use the network resources more efficiently, and give more people more bandwidth, more speed, more of the time. 

While the efficiency of 4G will be a boon to mobile communications, it isn’t enough.  So engineers are working on ideas to use our spectrum in a more efficient way than ever before – by utilizing what they call “white space.” Tom explains:

Several companies see a lot of unused spectrum and they see that they might be able to build a business around it. The trick is not interfering with the broadcast television… There are a couple of ways that could be done.  It’s really by putting intelligence in the radio.

One way to do it is this thing called “cognitive radio” – where the radio is smart enough to say, “Hey, I can hear channel 23 and I hear it at a signal level that is above a certain threshold – I’m smart enough to know that I can’t transmit on channel 23 because of that.  I’ll find another frequency that is below this threshold and I’ll transmit on that one instead.”

Another way to do it is by using GPS and a database of locations.  In that scenario the device will say, “Okay, I’ve got my coordinates from the GPS, I know where I am.  Here’s my database of frequencies that I’m allowed to transmit on from this location.” As you can imagine it’s a very, very large database, and it’s dynamic, it can be changing a lot of the time.

Spectrum is an invaluable resource of the American people.  You can count on very careful consideration and cooperation by the government, industry and the public to ensure that America’s spectrum policy provides the best opportunities for innovation and prosperity for decades to come.


One Response to “Connecting America’s Stories: A Faster, less Frustrating Future”

  1. Guest says:

    If 4G comes to my area it create competition with the only telecom with limited DSL available and over 50% of the area can't get DSL because it is out of range and since October 2009 no onenew people to the area can't get DSL because there is no more available slots so anyone to the area since then is on eaither Dial-up or satellite internet(17GB max transfer lmit download). There is not Cable companies eaither to do broadband.

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