The Federal Communications Commission set rules yesterday that will permit a large number of radio frequencies to come to market, in the hopes that it will foster greater use of wireless technology for high-speed data services.

The FCC made two decisions, one affecting airwaves in a range often used by cell-phone carriers, and one in a very-high-frequency range that has not previously been used.

In the first proceeding, involving a frequency range used by wireless companies, the FCC said it will free a significant range of frequencies that had been reserved for the government so they can be used by cell-phone and other private wireless companies. That spectrum is now used by the federal government and the Defense Department for wireless communications and precision-guided missiles.

The FCC will conduct an auction of the spectrum. In the past, such auctions have raised billions of dollars for the federal government. Analysts expect the auction to take place late next year or in 2005, although current government users will not be required to vacate the frequencies until 2008.

Analysts say spectrum in this frequency range is well suited for cellular phone services. The FCC's action will increase the amount of spectrum to be used by most cell-phone companies by more than 50 percent, said Julius P. Knapp, deputy chief of the FCC's office of engineering and technology.

"This is of major significance," Knapp said. "It can have great impact on the capacity of systems and the kinds of services [companies] can provide."

The cell-phone industry praised the development but said it is unclear how the extra spectrum might be used.

"It opens new possibilities. Spectrum is a very important part of our business," especially for developing very-high-speed data services, said Charla Rath, director of spectrum and public policy for Verizon Wireless. "But what it will be used for or how it will be used is an unknown," because it is not clear where the demand will be, she said.

The FCC is allowing a great deal of flexibility on how the new spectrum can be used, said Rebecca Arbogast, an analyst with Legg Mason Wood Walker Inc. "It's not clear how much interest there is in [high-speed-wireless] data," but this frequency could potentially be used in several ways, she said.

In a separate proceeding, the FCC approved the commercial use of airwaves in very high frequencies -- in the 70-, 80- and 90-gigahertz range -- which are now largely unused, except by a few classified military applications.

Companies such as Cisco Systems Inc. and Loea Communications Corp. are developing services that could make use of those airwaves for very-high-speed data transmission, Knapp said. "This is a largely untapped area of spectrum," and opening it up to new users will foster exploration of its possibilities, he said. "We're really talking about the new frontier of spectrum, and we have very few pioneers."

Source: WashingtonPost