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A non-profit publication of the Office of the University Relations of Virginia Tech,
including The Conductor, a special section of the Spectrum printed 4 times a year

Wireless broadcast spectrum won by VT Foundation

By David Nutter

Spectrum Volume 20 Issue 27 - April 9, 1998

The Virginia Tech Foundation, on behalf of Virginia Tech's research and public-service mission, has succeeded in its objective for participating in the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) auction by winning licenses to operate the wireless, broadcast spectrum for the greater Roanoke, Danville, Martinsville and Bristol market areas.
The FCC began the nation-wide auction of the wireless spectrum in February. Known as the Local Multipoint Distribution Service (LMDS), the auction has for the first time made available a large segment of the broadcast airwaves that was previously inaccessible. The spectrum is so powerful that it will be possible to transmit 8,000 high-density color photographs per second; provide high-speed Internet access at 100 times current modem rates; or carry over 200 video channels simultaneously.
In announcing Virginia Tech Foundation's successful bid for these licenses, Virginia Tech President Paul Torgersen said the university will use the spectrum to establish a research test-bed for advanced wireless communications with particular emphasis on rural regions of the country.
"With these licenses, we now have the potential to provide extraordinary bandwidth--information carrying capacity--for Southwestern and Southside regional businesses, educational institutions, hospitals, communities, and research entities interested in collaborating with Virginia Tech in its research and development efforts," Torgersen said.
"We intend to develop this test bed through a partnership with regional communities, businesses and interested players in the communications industry. Virginia Tech is not going into the communications business," Torgersen said. He noted that Virginia Tech Foundation was the only organization to bid on the four trading areas. Without Virginia Tech's participation in this project, the Roanoke, Danville, Martinsville and Bristol areas would have had to forego for some time the opportunity to develop this important economic-development tool.
"This should provide Southside and Western Virginia a unique competitive advantage in that this and other related leading-edge technologies may be available in this region before it is widely available in other communities of this size," Torgersen said. "That will help us attract better jobs and cleaner industry to the region."
The following counties and cities are in four trading areas:
Roanoke BTA: Bath, Rockbridge, Alleghany, Botetourt, Craig, Bedford, and Roanoke counties; Roanoke City, Giles, Montgomery, Franklin, Pulaski, Floyd, Wythe, Carroll, and Grayson counties.
Martinsville BTA: Patrick and Henry counties, and Martinsville City.
Danville BTA: Danville City, Pittsylvania and Halifax counties, South Boston, and Caswell County, N.C.
Bristol BTA: Smyth, Grayson, and Washington counties; Bristol City, Russell, Dickenson, Wise, Scott, and Lee counties.
The following Tennessee counties are also included in the Bristol BTA: Hawkins, Kingsport City, Sullivan, Carter, Johnson, Johnson City, Washington, Greene, and Cocke County.
Virginia Tech's analysis of the auction indicated the other bidders were interested in acquiring licenses in large urban areas such as Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C. The Virginia Tech Foundation, a private, not-for-profit foundation supporting the educational mission of the university, put up the $1.1 million in funding that enabled the university to participate in the auction. The Virginia Tech Foundation relies on private contributions. No state funds were involved in the purchase of the license.
With the granting of these licenses, Virginia Tech becomes the only university in the nation to own a section of the wireless, high-bandwidth spectrum. Virginia Tech's wireless-technology research is well known across the U.S. The university is home to two wireless communication research centers: the Center for Wireless Telecommunications (CWT), a technology-development center of the Virginia Center for Innovative Technology; and the Mobile and Portable Radio Research Group.
CWT is the lead group on the LMDS project. Virginia Tech has already been successful in a number of nationally recognized research projects such as the Blacksburg Electronic Village, the Smart Road--the nation's first roadway built from the ground up using smart technology, and most recently, Net.Work.Virginia, a nationally recognized prototype for the Next Generation Internet.
"Wireless communications have gone beyond radio, telephones and television to include personal computer networks, merchandising services, data systems and personal communications devices," said Earving Blythe, Virginia Tech's vice president for information systems. Blythe is responsible for giving overall leadership to the university's LMDS project. "Advances in technology are making wireless communications easier, safer, of higher quality and less expensive every month. The focus of this project is to provide a richer, more accommodating environment for aggressive research and innovation, while providing residents and area businesses with early access to emerging network and information resources," Blythe said.
In addition to the spectrum's extraordinary information-carrying capacity, Blythe said, LMDS is unique in that it is highly localized. This means that service can be customized for each local area (for example, an area within a five-to-10-mile radius) that uniquely serves the particular needs of that customer base. One community may use most of the bandwidth for Internet access; whereas another community can use an equally large amount of bandwidth for video teleconferencing.
Although the demand for such capabilities is increasing at a rapid pace, the equipment and technology necessary to fully exploit their use and implementation economically in rural communities is not yet available. It is this technology that Virginia Tech intends to develop. "Without the patient resources of an organization like the Virginia Tech Foundation in support of long term R&D, the rural and mountainous regions of the country may be under-served by LMDS," Blythe said. "The financial aspects of acquiring and deploying such a system in rural communities may not justify the investment without partnering between public and private interests."