On June 5, 2018, the Federal Communications Commission’s (“FCC’s” or the “Commission’s”) Enforcement Bureau (“Bureau”) issued a Notice of Apparent Liability against a manufacturer and retailer for marketing non-compliant RF devices, a dozen models of which were capable of operating in restricted spectrum bands.  The FCC proposes to assess a total fine of $2,861,128.00 against ABC Fulfillment Services LLC and Indubitably, Inc. (collectively, “HobbyKing”) for equipment authorization rule violations involving 65 models of recreational audio/video transmitters (“AV Transmitters”) used with model airplanes drones.  But more than $2.2 million of that resulted from the fact that twelve models apparently operates in restricted radio bands and three at higher powers than authorized in other bands. The restricted bands are those in which unlicensed transmitters are not allowed to operate because of potential interference to sensitive radio communications.  In the case of HobbyKing’s  the Commission found that its AV transmitters operated in bands where important government and public safety operations, such as those of the Federal Aviation Administration managing commercial and passenger flight traffic, doppler weather radar, flight testing, and other activities the FCC has determined are particularly worthy of heightened interference protection take place.  In other words, the moral is that marketing devices that do not have proper equipment authorization is bad, but doing so when the devices operate within restricted bands is quite simply “egregious,” as the NAL put it.

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Wireless carriers are a major step closer to using unlicensed spectrum to ease network congestion and boost speeds following the FCC’s authorization of the first LTE-Unlicensed (“LTE-U”) devices on February 22, 2017.  LTE-U technology allows carriers to deliver mobile traffic over unlicensed spectrum in the 5 GHz band already occupied by Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and other technologies.  The recipients of the equipment authorizations are Ericsson and Nokia.  The certifications by the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology (“OET”) mean that the devices in question satisfy the technical criteria of the FCC designed to prevent harmful interference to radio communications services.  Those rules stipulate that unlicensed devices must accept any harmful interference they receive from any source.  Unlicensed devices have been certified for decades.  The announcement of the certifications of the LTE-U devices represents an important milestone in the FCC’s recent focus on spectrum sharing and broadband deployment because these devices are specifically designed to support broadband and work in an integrated fashion with commercial mobile broadband providers’ networks.  In short, this is not just a pumped up version of Wi-Fi offload, which carriers have used for years to relieve congestion on mobile networks.  These devices mean that the hundreds of megahertz of 5 GHz spectrum that the cable and unlicensed communities fought for years to gain access to – the so-called Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure (“U-NII”) bands – will now be available for LTE technologies.

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