Evolution of the Wireless Cable Assoc.

Earlier this month, Private & Wireless Broadband Magazine's President and CEO Robert L. Vogelsang sat down with Andrew Kreig, President of the Wireless Communications Association (WCA), to discuss the association's current role and its efforts to aid the private system operator.

RLV: How would you define the Wireless Communications Association International?

AK: As the world's leading organization advocating the growth of the fixed wireless broadband access. The vast majority of the worlds most important fixed BWA carriers, manufacturers, system integrators and consultants are among WCA's 270 members.

RLV: What does the term fixed wireless broadband access, or BWA, encompass? Give me an idea of the frequencies and spectrum that you cover in your association.

AK: These are essentially all the bands capable of supporting broadband services enabled by land-based fixed, (that is, non-mobile) antennae. These bands vary from country to country. Generally, lets define them as ones capable of T-1 throughput, or approaching that speed.

Most commonly, WCA's members are focused on the 2 GHz spectrum and the millimeter wave spectrum at or above 24 GHz. In the lower frequencies, this encompasses 2.1 GHz MDS (where there is a narrow return-path channel in the U.S. and elsewhere) 2.3 GHz Wireless Communications Services (WCS) auctioned in the U.S. in 1997, 2.4 GHz unlicensed spectrum, also known worldwide as the Industrial, Scientific and Medical band, or ISM. We also have a very heavy membership of carriers and manufacturers in 2.5 GHz to 2.7 GHz the MDS ranges, commonly known as MDS, MMDS or in certain U.S. educational frequencies known as Instructional Television Fixed Service or ITFS.

Moving up to the higher frequencies, some parts of the world have allocated 3.4 to 3.6 GHz, although often in bandwidths too small to be highly desirable. License exempt bands at 5.2 and 5.8 GHz will be very significant following recent U.S. allocations of significant spectrum blocks. There is 10.5 GHz in Europe and parts of Latin America. Increasingly important allocations are being made at 24 GHz in the U.S. and Canada and 26 GHz in Europe for these services. LMDS (or LMCS as its known in Canada) is typically at 28 GHz and 31 GHz.

In the U.S., Canada, Europe, Latin America and parts of Asia, such companies as Winstar Communications, Advanced Radio Telecom and Diginet Americas are leading the way in a band sometimes called 38-39 GHz, or High Density Fixed Service as an umbrella term that can include LMDS. Finally, you have 40+ bands that are increasingly available, primarily Europe. Switzerland pioneered a multichannel commercial video service in that band, but more recently the emphasis has been on broadband wireless access, as in an allocation scheduled for the United Kingdom this autumn. In sum, there is a very wide array of options for those who want to be involved in broadband wireless access through fixed antennas and WCA is active in all of these areas and in all of these countries in cooperation with our members.

RLV: This has changed pretty dramatically from when you represented only the MMDS industry as the Wireless Cable Association. It looks like you've added almost all the voice, video and data spectrum being used worldwide. Is there any single industry at this time that you would define as, "this is the industry that we represent" or would it be more of a spectrum communications industry?

AK: This is a culmination of a long process. Speaking at WCA's most recent annual show, the FCC Chairman's Legal Advisor Ari Fitzgerald began by remarking that the delegates truly exemplified convergence, with cutting-edge representatives from such different sectors as the Internet, telephony and multichannel television. Yet this is no accident. Industry leaders years ago visualized several things: That two-way wireless connectivity would be vital to MMDS, that we were part of a worldwide marketplace and that we were the wireless association and not the 2 GHz association. So, for example, I participated on behalf of the WCA with consultant Dr. Weston Vivian of Vivian & Associates in the FCCs 1994 negotiated rulemaking to set the bandplan for LMDS. Also, we spoke at or co-chaired several of the first LMDS/millimeter wave conferences around the world in 1995 and 1996. By now, we have 70 LMDS/HDFS licensee members. These include all five of the most active U.S. operators. In the aggregate, our LMDS licensee/members spent 83% of the initial dollars for licenses (before subsequent transactions). So, the plan seems to be working.

Worldwide, our view was that the untapped potential of wireless is especially strong in countries long dependent on monopolies that haven't yet built an advanced infrastructure. To understand the industry, you have to look at the leading companies who have made huge financial commitments to the business of wireless broadband. Despite spending hundreds of millions of dollars on spectrum, almost all of the major companies are going to have other capabilities and interests. To define wireless broadband as a specific type of industry is sometimes helpful for rah-rah purposes. But it's more appropriately viewed as a sector of the telecommunications industry. You will find that virtually every major provider has both a broadband fixed wireless component, as well as another complementary platform.

For example, Winstar in the millimeter wave area, and Nextlink in the LMDS area, have major fiber optic capabilities and resources. Sprint and MCI WorldCom in the MDS area, also have heavy plant in fiber. MCI WorldCom in fact is the leading carrier for America Online traffic through its UUNet Internet backbone. What many of these companies have in common is that they see a special utility in cost effectiveness in fixed wireless broadband. That's what defines our organization, as serving that element of their interest.

I think a turning point in some way of public perception of this may have been over the last year. Major factors include heavy investments made by Sprint and MCI WorldCom. in the MDS platform, the tremendous build-outs of Winstar, Teligent and commitment by Nextlink. Then finally AT&T said at a December 6, news conference in New York it was moving into fixed wireless as a way to deploy where signature TCI cable and other wired capabilities could not take the company.

RLV: With MCI WorldCom, Nextlink, Teligent, and Winstar representing fixed wireless in most major markets, how does WCA balance their needs with the needs of wireless operators in medium and small markets?

AK: The question assumes that the needs are quite different. In fact, they're often quite similar. What we do is develop a vision of what the industry most needs, and then seek input from our members. We are in constant communications with the various sectors of our membership and garner reaction on their actual views on decisions that we have to make. We have a Board, committees and we publish a weekly Bulletin for members. We look forward to every opportunity to hear what's on member's minds. In fact, pretty much all of our major decisions have been on a consensus basis, in part because many of the companies have built up a comfort level with one another despite great changes. If there was a major disagreement, the Association might take a pass and let individual members do their own filings. Generally, what we do is provide the leadership and the direction for the industry to rally around. I won't say it's easy. We have some companies that are competitors. But by staying in touch closely with these busy executives, we usually reflect a viewpoint that everyone is comfortable with.

RLV: How can that be or how does this come to pass?

AK: Several years ago, the WCA was faced with an issue confronting almost all communications associations: the issues were getting bigger and the players were getting bigger. Due to the convergence of technologies, the importance in national branding, the goal of one-stop service for the consumer, and the importance of bundled off links had brought many types of services together under the same provider.

In that environment, our association could either could be very narrowly focused with a clearly identifiable set of companies as members, and running the risk of not having enough clout to protect their interest, or we could have a more open attitude and become larger and more representative, but with the idea that we would be representing companies that might have opposing interest or even competing fiercely for the same end customer.

The WCA includes manufacturers and consultants but it is fundamentally a licensee operator association. Its mission is in line with the pro-market, pro-competition view that most governments advocate: that unless entrepreneurial licensees are able to be successful, there wont be an industry.

At this point we now have multiple wireless members who may compete in the same city. The viewpoint that we've fostered, which pretty much everyone agrees with, is that is that there's enough business for everyone in this very dynamic market. The real competitors are the alternative technologies: the cable industry, the telcos, and the satellite providers. The fixed wireless operators are much better off giving up a little from their ideal wish list in order to have clout where it's needed. What's needed might be in the regulatory area, it might be in giving a common mission to the manufactures, or it might be in presenting a unified theme to financial markets, the news media, or to major-end customers, as well as ordinary consumers.

RLV: How would you categorize the rollout of the different millimeter bands? I know that some have already experienced significant rollouts while others are on their way. Could you explain the different paces of these rollouts?

AK: Rollouts at 24 GHz with Teligent, and at 38 GHz with Winstar have been more rapid recently than at the LMDS bands. Teligent and Winstar got their spectrum earlier, and thus had more time to get their financing and into the marketplace. Grabbing this market share is very important. The 31 GHz LMDS presents a special issue in terms of equipment capability and the service mix. In the larger LMDS Block A band at 28 GHz, there are some significant rollouts are under way. HighSpeed.Com, and Touch America have significant spectrum blocks across the Western United States, and are deploying their services. Central Texas is also rolling out in the marketplace using a hybrid mixture of LMDS and MMDS. This is particularly interesting to rural markets because it combines the large bandwidth of LMDS with the wider range of MMDS.

RLV: How do you see the pending 700 MHz and 39 GHz auctions affecting current and potential private system operators, rural markets, institutions and schools?

AK: I haven't heard much talk about schools as a particular focus of 39 GHz. Winstar and Advanced Radio Telecom are the two largest license holders, and I'm not sure schools have factored in any of their announced plans up to now. Advanced Radio Telecom has been heavily focused on the Internet. Winstar has used its services for CLEC and data-related uses. It might be anticipated that auction winners could follow a similar strategy.

The lower frequency bands, which are spectrum that recently used UHF TV channels from 60 to 69, seem to be attracting some non-traditional companies partly because of the different propagation characteristics, namely longer distances and the ability to penetrate walls. It's a smaller block of spectrum but it could be a significant answer to educational issues. There's a great need to address in this area because of the expense involved in wiring buildings.

RLV: How about the rural markets?

AK: Fixed BWA is very appropriate for crossing that particular Digital Divide, and we're organizing members who are in the forefront of providing those services so that their progress can be much better known.

RLV: What does WCA do that's relevant to unlicensed providers?

AK: As you know through your own company SpeedCell Communications here in Rosenberg, TX, license exempt services have a tremendous opportunity to grab market share with new services in such bands as 2.4, 5.2 and 5.8 GHz that have good propagation characteristics. The concept of license exempt——much like a public park——allows freedom to innovate. Just as a park has rules, however, there are regulatory issues for license exempt whereby WCA is making a positive impact in representing their interests. In addition, license exempt providers have similar technical, financial and public relations needs as our other members.

RLV: What's the outlook and challenges for 2000?

AK: This is the year when it all happens. The title of a speech that I gave this morning at a BWA conference was, Sitting on a Rocket! That underscores my belief and that of others in this industry, that there are fantastic opportunities for fixed wireless.

Yet market share needs to be gained soon, really in the next 24 to 36 month time frame. And if that happens, we are sitting on a rocket. There is a huge demand for bandwidth and there are very serious limitations by the alternative technologies in terms of capacity. The Vice President and General Counsel of Winstar recently stated that despite all of Winstar's fiber capacity, they look at fixed wireless as the best solution to give customers access to the exciting possibilities of broadband. That's typical of our industry leaders.