Last-modified: Sun, April 16, 1995
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*** Wireless Cable Television - Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) *** Internal Revision: 485 Compiled by Brian J. Catlin <catlin@CS.ColoState.EDU> A fully html version of this FAQ is available at: http://www.CS.ColoState.EDU/~catlin/wireless-cable.html Copyright --------- This file is Copyright (C) 1993, 1994, 1995 by Brian J. Catlin. All rights reserved. Redistribution of this file in both electronic and printed form, is permitted provided that this file is distributed in its entirety, including this copyright notice. If you redistribute this file, please let me know so that I can keep track of where this file goes. Sources ------- Most of this information is taken from FCC Public Notices along with information sent to me by both the FCC and the Wireless Cable Association (WCA). Other information has come from numerous newspapers, magazines, and from discussions with MMDS subscribers. Items marked with three plus signs (+++) have been added or changed since the last posting. I would like to thank Alan Larson, Craig Strachman, David Newman, David Simmons, and JBlitzEsq for their numerous contributions and corrections. Contents: --------- +++1.0 Abbreviations used 2.0 What is wireless cable? 2.1 What is CellularVision? 3.0 What are the benefits of wireless cable to the customer? 3.1 How does wireless cable work? 3.2 What is the history of MMDS? 3.3 How does MMDS work commercially? +++4.0 What frequencies are used? 4.1 How many channels can be transmitted? 4.2 What channels can be sent? 5.0 What is the range of wireless cable? 5.1 Does weather affect reception? 6.0 What equipment is in the subscriber's home? 6.1 Is wireless cable equipment reliable? +++7.0 What about copyright issues? 8.0 What about security? +++9.0 How are wireless cable systems regulated? 10.0 I saw one of those 'infomercials' about wireless cable. Are these companies legit? 10.1 How can I tell if a company is running a scam on me? 11.0 Is there an industry association? 11.1 Who do I contact for more information? 11.2 Are there any FTP or gopher sites available for more information? +++11.3 Wireless Cable people on the net. 12.0 Where can I get the latest copy of this FAQ? Questions and Answers --------------------- 1.0) ABBREVIATIONS USED: ITFS - Instructional Television Fixed Service. Channels that must have a minimum of 5 hours per week of educational programming. May be leased for wireless cable usage. LMDS - Local Multipoint Distribution Service. Two sets of 50 channels in the 28 GHz band. Not yet available for wireless cable usage. MDS - Multipoint Distribution Service. Two channels that are similar to MMDS. May be used in a wireless cable system. MMDS - Multichannel Multipoint Distribution Service. Two sets of four channels each. Also, type of service known as "Wireless Cable". 2.0) WHAT IS WIRELESS CABLE? Wireless cable is a name given to a service that is called Multichannel Multipoint Distribution Service (or MMDS). It is a type of cable television system that offers its subscribers a mix of satellite channels by transmitting the programming over MMDS frequencies along with MDS, OFS, and ITFS frequencies, if they are available. Wireless cable uses Super High Frequency ("SHF") channels to transmit satellite cable programming over-the-air instead of through overhead or underground wires. 2.1) WHAT IS CELLULARVISION? CellularVision/Suite12 is a company that has been granted special permission by the FCC to transmit video services on a higher frequency than what wireless cable uses. They have been testing in the 28 GHz (or LMDS) band. It is believed that the FCC may allocate two sets of 50 channels in this band for wireless cable type service. CellularVision is hoping to provide television plus much more. Since the signal is interleaved, it is possible for a large number of services to occupy a narrow bandwidth. CellularVision is planning on offering interactive networking, grocery ordering, bank transactions, and video teleconferencing. I am not sure what all CellularVision is planning on offering during this initial testing period. However, using the 28 GHz band means sacrificing signal range. These signals aren't able to achieve even the 25-30 mile range that MMDS and other 2 GHz services are able to get, given the same transmitting power. To get around this, they are using 35 "cell sites" to transmit the programming. They hope to offer service to over 6.3 million subscribers in the region around New York City by 1995. 3.0) WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF WIRELESS CABLE TO THE CUSTOMER? Availability: Wireless Cable can be made available in areas of scattered population and other areas where it is too expensive to build a traditional cable station. Affordability: Due to the lower costs of building a Wireless Cable Station, savings can be passed on to the subscribers. 3.1) HOW DOES IT WORK? Scrambled satellite cable programming is received at a central location where it is processed and fed into special transmitters. The SHF transmitters distribute the programming throughout the coverage area. The signals are received by special antennas installed on subscribers' roofs, combined with the existing VHF and UHF channels from the subscriber's existing antenna, and distributed within the home or building through coaxial cable into a channel program selector located near the television set. Notice that you must provide a UHF and/or VHF antenna if you want the broadcast channels. This is because the Wireless Cable Box only provides a UHF/VHF tuner. Of course, not all boxes include even this feature (but most do). 3.2) WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF MMDS? It is a fairly new service that developed from MDS (multi-point distribution service) which could only send one or two channels. Originally, the FCC thought MDS would be used primarily to send business data. However, since MDS's creation in the early 70's, the service has become increasingly popular in sending entertainment programming. Because the FCC does not regulate the content of the transmission, alternative uses would not be prohibited. Today, there are systems in use all around the U.S. and in many other countries including the former Soviet Union, and Canada. Other systems are being built all over the place, including Australia. At the rate that the FCC has been receiving applications, it looks as if many more systems are going to be built in the U.S.. 3.3) HOW DOES MMDS WORK COMMERCIALLY? A MMDS licensee, which is similar to a broadcast station owner, leases transmission time to programmers on a first-come, first- served basis. The programmers, in turn, are responsible for designing and selling their programs to the subscriber. A MMDS applicant can choose to operate as a common carrier. In the telecommunications industry, a common carrier also may provide services such as audio only transmissions, telephone, or data. A MMDS applicant can alternatively choose to operate as a non- common carrier. This scenario in effect would constitute a non- common carrier wireless cable system. Also, note that a MMDS license only entitles you to FOUR channels. In order to use all 33 channels, you must apply for several different licenses. This can be very costly! 4.0) WHAT FREQUENCIES ARE USED? Frequency num. of type of channel Range channels service groups --------------------- -------- ------- ------------------ 2,150 - 2,162 MHz 2 MDS 1,2,2(A) 2,500 - 2,596 MHz 16 ITFS ABC&D 2,596 - 2,644 MHz 8 MMDS E&F 2,644 - 2,686 MHz 4 ITFS G +++ " - " 3 MMDS H 2,686 - 2,689.875 MHz 31* MMDS Response Channels * - Each channel's bandwidth is 125 KHz, and does not carry video. There are also tests being made in New York for transmitting in the 28 GHz band (LMDS). The frequencies used are 27.5 GHz - 29.5 GHz. I am not sure of how these frequencies are divided between the different services. The FCC is currently thinking about opening up more frequencies so that up to 7 wireless cable companies can compete in the larger markets. 4.1) HOW MANY CHANNELS CAN BE TRANSMITTED? When fully implemented, wireless cable operations may have as many as 33 channels of broadcast and cable programming. This, of course, depends on which channels are already used in your area. Furthermore, 20 of the 33 channels are borrowed from ITFS services and are earmarked for educational use. This means there is a requirement to program 20 hours per week per channel of educational material. All educational programming is now allowed to be placed on one ITFS channel instead of having it spread over the four channels in the ITFS group. For new ITFS licenses, only 12 hours per week per channel is required, but they cannot be grouped together. If any of these channels are being used, then any extra time can be leased by the MMDS station, if the owner of the license agrees. Approximately 150 to 300 channels may become available if digital compression is used. There are a few sites that are testing this new technology, and I have heard that the video and audio signals are quite good. They are using Zenith's new 16-level digital transmission system which is also capable of delivering HDTV (High Definition Television). Also, since the signals will be sent digitally, it is expected that the range of the signal will increase by approximately 3 times. 4.2) WHAT CHANNELS CAN BE SENT? Wireless cable systems can carry any of the typical cable channels. In the past, some channels refused to let wireless cable systems carry their signals. However, the cable re-regulation bill made channels that are available to cable companies also available to wireless cable. It can also send the 'SuperGuide' data along with similar data services. 5.0) WHAT IS THE RANGE OF WIRELESS CABLE? Wireless cable systems optimally can get a range of up to 25-30 miles. This depends largely on the terrain, transmitting power, both the transmitting and receiving equipment, and many other factors. In order to receive the signal, the transmitting and receiving antennas must be line-of-site. Because of its low startup costs, and the ability to reach places that cannot be served by traditional cable, MMDS may be feasible in certain rural areas. A range of 75 to 90 miles could be accomplished if a new digital compression system is used. (See question 4.1) 5.1) DOES WEATHER AFFECT RECEPTION? The answer to this question depends on the type of system used. For systems that transmit their programming without modification (ie. No compression or scrambling), severe fog and/or rain can cause the signal to be reflected, causeing the picture to deteriorate. From what I have heard,you can usually expect between eight to ten days per year of interrupted service. This figure, I believe, is the average for the current systems operating in the U.S.. If the programming is scrambled, the downconverter/descrambler may loose authorization sooner. On the other hand, if the programming is sent digitally, or is digitally compressed, the signal can deteriorate to a much lower level before the picture is affected. However, once the signal gets this weak, the picture will deteriorate at a much faster rate as the weather gets worse. From what I have read, the average number of days that this type of service would be interrupted, would be one day per year. (This sounds rather optimistic to me... does anyone have any info about this?) Also, the farther the receiver is from the transmitter, the sooner the picture will be affected. 6.0) WHAT EQUIPMENT IS IN THE SUBSCRIBER'S HOME? Each household subscribing to the service has a small antenna on its roof (about the size of an open newspaper) and a downconverter inside. The downconverter usually includes an addressable decoder and a VHF/UHF tuner built in. This gives it the ability to tune in broadcast channels without having to use up valuable MMDS channels. It also allows pay-per-view services and simplifies channel blocking and premium channel activation/deactivation. Also, the subscriber will need a UHF and/or VHF antenna if they want to receive broadcast channels. Recently, a new converter has been introduced that will send all channels out of the converter at once. This means that you can use your TV's and your VCR's built in tuner instead of having to have seperate boxes for each. This new technology is (hopefully) going to be integrated into Wireless Cable converters as well as the traditional cable boxes. 6.1) IS WIRELESS CABLE EQUIPMENT RELIABLE? Several excellent manufacturers produce antennas and downconverters for signal reception along with decoder boxes. Because the signal is broadcast over the air, it is not subject to the failures of traditional cable. However, the receiving end is somewhat more complex than most wired cable systems would use. Also, the signal is in a frequency range that may be attenuated by water (such as rain) and can be blocked by trees. There is also some risk of interference from microwave ovens operating in the area on 2,450 MHz. There are several companies that provide equipment and consulting services. If you are interested in this, you may want to pick up the latest copy of The Broadcasting Yearbook or Multichannel News. These can be found at most large libraries. 7.0) WHAT ABOUT COPYRIGHT ISSUES? In the past, wireless cable systems have assumed that they may use a compulsory license to pay for copyright issues (similar to what cable companies do today). A compulsory license enables systems to re-transmit broadcast signals for a pre-established fee to compensate producers of TV programs. The copyright office then announced that wireless cable is NOT a cable system, therefore, these systems may not use compulsory licenses. +++However, the Satellite Home Viewer Act of 1994 was passed and +++enacted on October 18, 1994. This act establishes that wireless +++cable systems fully qualify for the compulsory copyright license in +++the same manner as cable systems. (I would like to thank JBlitzEsq +++for this information.) 8.0) WHAT ABOUT SECURITY? In systems that use scrambling, signal security is provided by encoding each channel and equipping the converter with a decoding device that responds to a pilot signal carrying a data stream with authorization instructions. Thus, the system is totally addressable. No (legal) converter box will have any utility unless it is authorized for service by the central computer. All channels, both Basic and Premium, are hard scrambled. Because the wireless cable system is addressable, it can also accommodate pay- per-view service. One way to defeat this is to use an illegal converter box. These are not as easy to find as the ones for regular cable systems. However, a "Universal Descrambler" will probably be able to descramble the channels. (I have not tried this). If digital compression is used, then no scrambling is needed as a compressed signal is impossible to watch. According to Barry Nadler of the FCC office in Vero Beach, "There is not any restrictions on receiving wireless cable transmissions. There are currently restrictions on the cellular frequencies only. If you decode scrambled signals, you are breaking the law. Cable companies can take you to court (Title 47 Section 705) for 'Use of information not specifically directed to you'." This means that you may view any unscrambled/unmodified signals with your own receiver. You may not, however, unscramble a signal without authorization. I would like to thank David Simmons for providing this quote to me. 9.0) HOW ARE WIRELESS CABLE SYSTEMS REGULATED? The FCC has specifically preempted local regulation of wireless cable frequencies, asserting that it is interstate commerce. There is no basis for local regulation of the wireless signal. Unlike cable, no public rights of way are used, and all transmission and reception equipment is on private property. Furthermore, the antennas are so similar to regular television antennas that there can be no basis for zoning restrictions. If a particular area does have zoning restrictions against antennas, they can be fought against in court (the newsgroup rec.video.satellite occasionally has these discussions). However, if you signed an agreement that restricted antennas, you may be out of luck. If you find yourself in this situation, look at the "USENET Satellite FAQ List" posted in rec.video.satellite by Gary Bourgois. Most of the information he provides about zoning restrictions applies to Wireless Cable antennas as well as TVRO (satellite) antennas. +++This does not mean, however, that there is little regulation. The +++federal government regulates the industry heavily. This is done +++through processes of getting licenses, transfering licenses, +++applying for ITFS channels, report filings, etc. 10.0) I SAW ONE OF THOSE 'INFOMERCIALS' ABOUT WIRELESS CABLE. ARE THESE COMPANIES LEGIT? While some companies may be legit, there are some things that they don't disclose. Because of this, two companies have had temporary restraining orders placed against them. A judge has placed some of the following restrictions on them. * They may no longer state that applicants are "virtually guaranteed" of winning a license in the FCC lottery or that most wireless cable licenses are "highly valuable." * "There may be substantial delays in the awarding of any MMDS license due to the length of time the FCC takes to process MMDS applications and award MMDS licenses." * That financing for wireless cable systems is hard to get, "given the relatively new nature of this field of technology and that such financing may require additional funds of the customer's own money as a condition" to obtaining a system. * Provide a new "Risk Disclosure" statement that applicants must sign before sale is completed. This statement informs applicants, among other items, that any representations of value of systems are opinions and not actual values, that the winner of a MMDS lottery wins only 4 channels and that there may be competition with satellite, VCR, and other media. Temporary Restraining Orders have been placed on, or have been filed against: 1) Applied Telemedia Engineering and Management (A-TEAM) and 2) Applied Cable Technologies (ACT). If you deal with any type of application preparation firm, be very careful and read EVERYTHING. Other companies that MAY be questionable include Communications Engineering Management Services (CEMS), Decaxo Capital, Techno Source, and Western Wireless. These companies have management that were involved in a company selling cellular licenses. This company was forced out of business by the FCC for misleading customers. Other questionable companies include: MMDS Technologies (also known as Metro Communications Group), Tele-Wave Technology, GMT Group (also known as National Micro Vision Systems), Continental Wireless Cable Television, Spectrum Resources Group, UEG L.C., United Resource Group L.C., United Communications Ltd, Application Resolution Trust (ART), Foster City Financial Inc., Michael Charles Fisher, Marrco Communications, The Communications Group Inc., Wireless Cable Financial Consultants, B.R. Cable Corporation and Communications Corporation, Micro-Lite Television Inc., MCC Ventures Group and Monarch Capital Group, Emerging Technologies Group Inc., Microtech Communications Inc., Communications Development Corporation, Parkersburg Wireless Ltd., Key West Wireless Partners, Lancaster Broadcasting Partners, Transamerica Wireless Systems, Shreveport Wireless Cable TV Partnership, Microwave Cable TV Partnership, Knoxville LLc, Wireless Solutions Inc., Comcoa Ltd., Vision Communications, Mitchell Communications, Metropolitan Communications Corp. MMDS Technologies (aka. Metro Communications Group) had a restraining order placed against them, but it was later removed. American Microtel (also affiliated with Stork and Codima) has reached a settlement pertaining to a restraining order that was placed against them. Also, take note that in the U.S., it is ILLEGAL to enter into (or even plan on entering into) a settlement group when applying for a license. Investigations by both federal and state agencies are continuing on many companies. As I receive info, it will be placed here. 10.1 HOW CAN I TELL IF A COMPANY IS RUNNING A SCAM ON ME? Many scams work the following way: * Television, radio, and newspaper ads say that a wireless cable company is looking for investors to apply for licenses for a given area, which the company will service. * Investors are asked to pay a large sum of money for application and engineering fees. The application fee is only about $155 for four channels. * The company then does an engineering study, which may not meet the technical requirements, and submits many applications at one time to the FCC for that market. * If the investor wins a license, the company may not have the funding to actually bring a system on-line. Most legitimate companies get their investments from institutions instead of from individuals. Also, beware of any "limited liability partnerships" as they are frequently scams. 11.0) IS THERE AN INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION? Wireless cable operators, license holders, and equipment/service suppliers have formed the Wireless Cable Association. Among its activities the WCA has established a set of industry standards, both business and technical. The WCA has also made the industry's concerns known on Capitol Hill and at Federal agencies such as the FCC, NTIA, OTA and DOJ. The WCA has also opened channels of communication with organizations such as the National League of Cities, NATOA, MPAA and the Association of State Attorneys General. 11.1) WHO DO I CONTACT FOR MORE INFORMATION? FCC Mass Media Bureau Washington, DC 20554 Wireless Cable Association International, Inc. 1155 Connecticut Avenue, N.W. Suite 700 Washington, DC 20036 (202) 452-7823 FAX: (202) 452-0041 11.2) ARE THERE ANY FTP OR GOPHER SITES AVAILABLE FOR MORE INFORMATION? The FCC is currently setting up a site (ftp.fcc.gov) for anonymous FTP of daily reports, transcripts, and many other things on cable, radio, television, telephone, and everything else that the FCC deals with. You should first get the README file which tells how the files are stored. For more information on anonymous FTP, see your local network administrator or your BBS's sysop. This service is also available via gopher. All you need to do is gopher to ftp.fcc.gov port 70. 11.3) +++WIRELESS CABLE PEOPLE ON THE NET. Here is a list of people or companies that are involved in this industry and who have given me information on how they can be reached. GHz Equipment Company: http://access.net99.net/~ghzequip/index.html 12.0) WHERE CAN I GET THE LATEST COPY OF THIS FAQ? The latest copy of this FAQ can be found via anonymous FTP at these sites in North America: Site: rtfm.mit.edu File: /pub/usenet/rec.video.cable-tv/Wireless_Cable_TV_FAQ Site: ftp.uu.net File: /usenet/news.answers/wireless-cable It can also be found at any site that mirrors the news.answers archive. For more information on anonymous FTP, see your local network administrator or your BBS's sysop. This FAQ can be found via the World-Wide-Web (WWW) at: http://www.cis.ohio-state.edu/hypertext/faq/usenet/wireless-cable/ faq.html or for a better linked version, you can get: http://www.CS.ColoState.EDU/~catlin/wireless-cable.html Other FAQs can be found at: http://www.cis.ohio-state.edu/hypertext/faq/usenet/FAQ-List.html Disclaimer ---------- I have no affiliation with any type of cable or broadcast system. I am definitely not an expert in these areas. I have tried, to the best of my ability, to interpret and relay the most accurate and up to date information. However, I do not guarantee the accuracy of this information as some of my sources may be biased or incorrect. For additions, clarifications, corrections, or if you just have some questions or comments, please feel free to e-mail me. B. J. Catlin ------------------------------------------------------------------------------ --- Brian J. Catlin * Colorado State University --- --- catlin@CS.ColoState.EDU * Fort Collins, Colorado --- --- firstname.lastname@example.org * (970) 495-2841 --- --- International Business Machines/ISSC * Client/Server LAN Response Team --- ------------------------------------------------------------------------------ * The opinions expressed above are mine, not IBM's or ISSC's.