Latest WISP FCC visit

OK all I think I've gotten this all fleshed out in my mind.

Back in June of 2002 I was able to take a team of WISPs into the FCC for the
first ever WISP training. In that meeting we went over exactly what a wisp
is, who the customers are etc.

I was only able to get myself and Patrick Leary back from the first time.
Others with me this time were Tom DeReggi (who's done some fcc stuff with me
in the past), Bob Moldashel, and George Rogato.

Our first meeting was with the Broadband Wireless Access Task Force. The
BWATF is working on a major report about this industry right now, due at the
end of this month. I think our timing will prove to be very good. (NOTE:
They were more than a little bit surprised that they've not heard from more
wisps, even after I posted their email address and the list of questions
they asked about. We, as an industry, need to somehow get much more
proactive with these guys, they are hungry for empirical data.)

A couple of very interesting things came out of that meeting (aside from all
the cool "WISPs did it when/where no one else did" stories). First off,
Patrick and I did some digging. Out of roughly 10,000 wisps are on the
books of 4 of the largest 5 or 6 distributors (not everyone would give me
the numbers) in this segment. We assumed that 75% of that was overlap and
told the FCC that we were very sure that there are 3000 WISPs out there. I
think that others who suggested we use 50% as the overlap figure may well be
more accurate, especially if one adds companies that only buy factory direct
and only buy one brand.

I also found it interesting that we were able to track down nearly 750,000
client radios sold into the US market in the last 3 to 5 years. This number
included almost NO Wi-Fi gear!!!!! And I personally think that Wi-Fi gear
makes up around 50% of the customer base. Therefore I feel very comfortable
in saying that there are easily 1,000,000 broadband wireless customers out
there, not even including anything that the licensed guys are doing.

Some interesting data about Wi-MAX came out too. Some interesting things
happening at the standards level. I'll let Patrick fill folks in on that if
he thinks it's ok to talk about it.

What was supposed to be the secondary part of the day turned out to be the
big show for us. We met with a LOT (around a dozen as I recall) of people
from enforcement, the lab, policy etc. Mostly not worker bees but the guys
at the top of the food chain, making the rules.

We talked about a LOT of things. Very open and to the point. Some of the
items from several angles. I'm not even going to pretend I remember all of
it but I'll hit on a few of the things here and maybe the other guys will
add to this.

First, at 5.2 I had always been taught that the power level was 250 mw EIRP.
It's not. It's 250 mw (24dB) with a 6dB antenna and for every one dB you go
down on the tx power you can go up 1 dB on antenna gain. So it's 1 watt not
1/4 watt. For any that I've taught otherwise, sorry about that.

Next, antenna certification. It IS now ok to mix and match antennas. Kinda
sorta. The idea is for the manufacturer to pick the worst antenna he can of
a certain type (grid, yagi, panel etc.) and certify with that. Once that's
done the manufacturer can then self certify any antenna that he wants as
long as it has the same or lower gain, similar radiation patters and similar
in/out of band emissions properties and is of the same type. All that has
to be done is for the manufacture to check out the antenna specs for your
favorite antenna and as long as it's not worse than what he certified with
he just adds the new manufacturer and part number to a list included with
the documentation for the radio and you're good to go.

Let me get into why WE can't do that (it dovetails into the next issue,
power levels for ptmp systems). The FCC can only certify a DEVICE or
combination of devices then called a system. One radio, one cable, one
antenna. Or one package with several radios all managed as one unit counts
as well. That's all that the FCC really has only got the ability to control
one thing, that which a person brings to them for certification. They can't
certify what they've not seen. Also, the manufacturer of the system is the
one responsible to make sure that the system is certified so they are the
ones assumed to be the most qualified to make sure that the devices (in this
case the antennas) are of a truly similar nature.

Now on to the new power level rules. This was a tough one. In a nutshell
it doesn't apply to gear that's out there now. Meaning that WE can't take
radio a, sectored antenna b and build a solution (certified or otherwise)
that goes over 36dB. The ptp rules for ptmp systems is intended for one
device with multiple transmitting systems, either a Vivato like
multi-radio/multi-antenna packet switching or advanced antenna solution. In
the end, this new rule won't do the average (read rural) wisp any good for
very long time. Who can justify the cost of a Vivato ap ($20,000 or more
per sector!) to service less than 100 subs? Heck, to service less than 1000
subs it's not justifiable in my mind.

Unfortunately we got to the FCC on THE day (October 7th 2004) that the new
rules were put in place so there's no contesting the rule. It's set in
stone till a different solution (NPRM, loose interpretation etc.) can be

What we need, as I told them, is a way to take existing systems that are
certified and deploy them under the new rules. That does NOT apply here
though. We can not take an Alvarion 24 dB ap with a 24 dB grid (it IS a
certified system) and use that to service a customer base that's 20 or 30
miles from a mountain top. As an AP it would still be limited to 36 dB (4
watts vs. the 60 watts that Alvarion solution has).

I submitted to them that we could field engineer a system that's the
functional equivalent of a Vivato system. This is WAY basic so don't call
me and get nasty if it's not exact!!! But Vivato is basically a set of
radios (8 or 10 as I recall) each of which has it's own antenna. Rather
than moving the antenna beam around (a steerable beam antenna) Vivato is a
"packet steering" system. What's packet steering you ask? Um, an ethernet
switch or a router. Really special eh? Again I'm sure this simplifies
things a lot but Vivato does NOT use an active antenna, it's a series of
passive antennas. Much like the Gabriel M-Beam antenna, it's designed so
that adjacent radios don't interfere with each other enough to be a problem.
The idea that I tossed out to the FCC is that I could take 6 60* (or
whatever sectors) sectors and use Wi-Fi access points right off the shelf
and build the functional equivalent of a Vivato solution at a fraction of
the cost. Or take the example of a site that I have where 100% of the
customer base is in about a 200* zone. I could easily build a system of a
couple to a few ap's each covering a small area but at higher power level so
I could reach out the 20 to 30 miles that I have good line sight. This
would allow me to cover more people with almost no new investment and do it
NOW not years from now once hardware finally comes out.

What they said is that they are trying to go very slowly so that some
unintended consequence doesn't occur. Or to use their words "We don't want
to be the guys that fed the cow that stepped on the goose the lays the
golden egg." I laughed at that. It's sooooo true though! *I* don't want
to see that either.

So, how do we work to allow higher power levels for people that need it for
trees, range and such while making sure that some ding bat on the top of a
building in downtown L.A. and ring it with 36 10* sectors using the Alvarion
example above and blow every other 2.4 gig system off line for miles around?

That's what the FCC has now asked WISPA to do. We're to come up with some
kind of way that they can allow those that really need more power to get it
while at the same time not leave a loophole that makes it possible for
someone to cause a problem. The last thing we want to see is a CB radio
type problem in the unlicensed bands. But we do need some more flexibility
and certainly more power in certain conditions.

Here's my thought on that....
How about if the rules are interpreted to say that as long as there are no
more than 6 certified systems are used it's ok to combine otherwise
certified systems into a combined system as long as steps are taken to
insure that all traffic does not go out all radios at once. Basically that
could be done via ethernet switch or router. I'd not even mind a limit on
the increased gain when building a system that way. Maybe PTMP rules up to
9 or 12 dB above the current rules.

WISPA has been given an open invitation to help shape a specific regulatory
issue. Put on your thinking tukes (a little Bob and Doug for those of you
under 35 years of age) and lets come up with an idea here. How can we limit
the risk of allowing Joe Q. Public to run a higher output tower site but
still allow the responsible WISPs out there to service more of the un-served
or under-served markets today?

Those of you that were at this meeting have any other ideas or things that I
missed?  Thanks, Marlon

Overall you made a good summary, but you are somewhat missing the boat on your end comments.
Basically, the gist of what I got was...The FCC didn't protest the fact that we could make an antenna equivalent
to a Vivato using off the shelf components, nor that we need more power.  They just couldn't allow the free public to go around making their own changes, its to hard to enforce accuracy of engineering decisions. Their point was that someone had to be accountable. The FCC relaxed the rules, by offloading some of the FCC's responsibilities off to the Manufacturer and giving them more control for authorizing certification and engineering validity. But the Manufacturer NOW TAKES RESPONSIBILITY for the accuracy of its decision to call an antenna certified and approved.  In other the Manufacturer assumes liability.  Marlon, what you were asking for was to use more power under certain circumstances. And the FCC was asking how are they going to have accountability if that was allowed. As of today, the FCC rules, allow you to gather a bunch of off the shelf rules, call your self a manufacturer, and send in a request to certify that group of antennas as a single item for certification. That way a FCC certification gets tied to that solution.  What we ran against is that the freedom would not be given to an third party engineer or consultant or end user to make that judgment or bypass the rules. So even if we came up with an idea of what circumstances we should be allowed to use more power, the solution to do so would still need to be certified by the manufacturer.
The FCC was very responsive because they suggested that they had an open door for a proposal to consider, and I believe they were sincere. I suggested that what we needed, was a program (as has been suggested for
years by Marlon) that allowed third party designers, expert, and engineers to
have flexibility to innovate, and make decisions, and the only way that that could happen would be if in parallel it also was a program to hold the third party engineer accountable for their decision.  I think what we need is a proposal of how we think the certified engineer program could work. For example, under basic rules, no certification needed. However, third party engineers could get licenses that registered them as WISP engineers, and their name and license gets put on the table when they design a system. The engineer becomes responsible, and if the FCC inspects a WISP's cell site, and finds it not done correctly, then the
engineer becomes liable. And when we take liability, we gain the right to innovate and make substitutions.
The certified engineer shouldn't be about how much training the engineer needs to get, but more about the liability that they are willing to signup for. How do we stop abuse, and detect abuse, if the rules get relaxed?
That's what the FCC wants the proposal for.  I don't protest that we need more power in rural areas where there will be
little harm in giving it. But how do we do it? Maybe the answer needs to revolve around down tilt, and coverage radius. For every X degree of down tilt added to the antenna, X db increase can be used. Or maybe we
have to prove that our area has geographical obstructions to prevent the spread of interference outside of our area, if higher power is used. To use higher power, make us submit proof that we performed a study verifying that we could not detect our signal out side a certain radius at a certain strength.  For example, in a valley between mountains on all side, high power could
be used, because the mountains would block the RF from leaving the area. Or maybe we are allowed, if the area is rated at a certain density level for trees and tree height. Or maybe we create a list, that tracks people that bend the rules, with justification meeting a criteria. For example, the default WISP operating under basic rules, has no obligation to report its deployment. However, any WISP that wants to bend the rules can be allowed to if, they report to a list what they are doing. Therefore if it ends up causing interference, people know where to find who the interferer is, and it becomes the persons responsibility that broke the rules, to resign his network to prevent the spread of his interference to the party that is protesting that they are being interfered with. The thing is the FCC doesn't want to be the one that tracks it. They would be more supportive
of  program that a WISP organization created to track and enforce the specialize rules. So is my opinion.  Any proposal that we make has to allow for easy visual verification that a system deployment complies. Rather than actually accessing a WISP's
private infrastructure or network. How does WISP 2 learn that WISP 1 is deploying outside of the rules? We need to be able to know. Verifying whether a WISP is using adaptive packet transmission to reduce interference isn't going
to be easy for WISP2 to detect.  There were some good messages that we left with the FCC. We let them know, where ever we go DSL follows. We made sure they understood and we understood, we weren't asking for special treatment, as that would not fly, we just wanted a level playing field for small WISPs. We sent the message, that we are doing our part, but we can't do it alone, we need the FCC's help, and with out it, its going to all fall apart. The public is suffering today, because we don't have the freedom today to serve them based on the rules.  The big negative of the meeting was that many things we thought we had with the new rules, we did not have. Things we thought we earned we did not.
However, we did learn that the FCC officials are eager to listen to us, and try to find ways to help us, within the boundaries of the options they are  allowed to do. They had at least 8 people there dedicated to listen to our ideas and assist us. If that doesn't show support, I'm not sure what could.  They want to help us, its just really hard to come up with ways to do it.
If we can't come up with suggestions of how, how can we expect them to? If we send them a proposal, at minimum, I know that they WILL read it, and they WILL consider it, provided that our proposal is realistic (legally and politically speaking).

Tom DeReggi
RapidDSL & Wireless, Inc