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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

The Bloomberg story does take note of these plans. "Globalstar is seeking regulatory approval to convert about 80 percent of its spectrum to terrestrial use....Globalstar met with FCC Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn in June, and a decision on whether the company can convert the spectrum could come within months."

If given a green light, "Globalstar is considering leasing its spectrum, sharing service revenues with partners, and other business models, one of the people said. With wireless spectrum scarce, Globalstar's converted spectrum could be of interest to carriers and cable companies, seeking to offload ballooning mobile traffic, as well as to technology companies."

Earlier this year, then-FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski repeated his pledge to continue expanding spectrum in both licensed and unlicensed bands.

In June, Wi-Fi vendor Ruckus Wireless, in Mountain View, announced it had completed a round of tests with Globalstar. The trial combined unlicensed spectrum from the upper edge of the 2.4 GHz Industrial Scientific Medical (ISM) band and Globalstar's licensed Mobile Satellite Services (MSS) spectrum. Ruckus used its Smart Wi-Fi brand access points and controllers, targeted at carrier-based Wi-Fi services, and a selection of existing smartphones with built-in Wi-Fi radios that had been given and over-the-air firmware update to run on the new channel.

According to Ruckus, the test showed that the new spectrum could achieve up to five times the range and four times the capacity "over traditional Wi-Fi." Unfortunately, the Ruckus statement was not more specific about the meaning of "traditional Wi-Fi," which could refer to 802.11n or even 802.11g, or about "capacity." Capacity refers to the network's ability to handle larger numbers of users and greater amounts of traffic. [One discussion of Wi-Fi capacity is found in "Aerohive Design & Configuration Guide: High-density Wi-Fi," by Andrew von Nagy, an Aerohive employee.] The increased range is important especially if higher data rates are sustained over those longer distances.

In a June interview posted at, Jarvinian Managing Director John Dooley was quoted as saying "Even in an indoor environment made difficult or unusable by spectral congestion, usable connections [in the Ruckus-Globalstar tests] were established at 3-5 times the distance of public WiFi." The tests also showed more uniform high speeds across longer ranges, according to that post.

The Ruckus statement also said the Globalstar test network did not interfere with nearby conventional Wi-Fi networks. That lack of interference is important. In filing its comments on Globalstar's FCC petition, the Consumer Electronics Association argued that "Globalstar's....proposal presents significant risk to unlicensed operations in the 2.4 GHz band and potentially threatens the economic value, consumer benefit, growth, and potential for innovation of those unlicensed operations." Other industry groups have also raised concerns.

But Amazon apparently sees potential in offering its customers, ever more untethered with smartphones and tablets, a premium Wi-Fi experience that's superior to what public Wi-Fi today can offer.


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