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Amazon reportedly tested Wi-Fi network in new spectrum

John Cox | Aug. 26, 2013
Tests used Globalstar's proposed "channel 14" for new Wi-Fi capacity

A report that Amazon has tested a wireless network actually sheds new light on plans by satellite communications company Globalstar to extend the Wi-Fi spectrum.

The extension, if approved by the FCC, would create a new, uncluttered, high performance Wi-Fi channel in upper reaches of the 2.4-GHz band, a channel Globalstar apparently intends as the basis of a managed service with cellular-like quality and roaming.

Amazon's wireless testing was revealed today in a Bloomberg news story, "Amazon Is Said to Have Tested a Wireless Network," by Olga Kharif and Danielle Kucera. The tests were run near Amazon's Lab126 research facilities in Cupertino, according to Bloomberg's sources. The lab designs Amazon's Kindle devices.

"The trial underlines how Amazon, the world's largest e-commerce company, is moving beyond being a Web destination and hardware maker and digging deeper into the underlying technology for how people connect to the Internet," according to the Bloomberg story. "That would let Amazon create a more comprehensive user experience, encompassing how consumers get online, what device they use to connect to the Web and what they do on the Internet."

But the tests suggest that Amazon doesn't intend or even want to be a traditional wireless network provider. Instead, the online retail giant seems to be exploring the potential of a branded, managed Wi-Fi service that mirrors the features of cellular service: seamless roaming, minimal interference, improved security, and consistent high performance.

The Bloomberg story notes that the test network used spectrum controlled by satellite communications company Globalstar, based in Milpitas, Calif. In November 2012, the company petitioned the FCC to allow it to use part of its satellite spectrum to offer terrestrial data services, an offering it dubbed Terrestrial Low Power Service.

TLPS adds a big chunk of new capacity: 22 MHz to the currently available 72 MHz of 2.4 GHz spectrum, according to Jarvinian Wireless Innovation Fund, a Cambridge, Mass., research and investment firm focused on spectrum issues. Jarvinian claims credit for the TLPS idea and the engineering work behind it, and has been working closely with Globalstar.TLPS would essentially add a fourth non-overlapping channel, dubbed Channel 14, to the upper reaches of the 2.4 GHz band used for unlicensed Wi-Fi transmissions. The channel actually would combine Globalstar's adjacent licensed spectrum with a small amount of unlicensed spectrum.

But because this fourth channel is actually licensed to Globalstar, the company plans to use it in something like a wholesale, managed wireless service that would offer greater range and performance than conventional public Wi-Fi hotspots, and be available to end users through carriers or through brands, such as Amazon, operating as virtual network operators.


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