Representatives from Verizon held conference calls last week urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to consider licensing part of the 6 GHz band.
The FCC is on a course to make a 1,200-megahertz swath of the 6 GHz band available for unlicensed use, but CTIA, the lobbying association that represents carriers like Verizon, argued that part of the band should be made available for licensed use.
That's in part because the U.S. has lagged other countries in making mid-band spectrum available for 5G, with the best near-term prospects being the CBRS 3.5 GHz band and the C-band. CTIA says (PDF) that across the globe, the U.S. stands alone in its proposal to dedicate 1,200 megahertz of mid-band spectrum for unlicensed operations.
The Verizon representatives, who spoke in separate calls with the legal advisers to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and other commissioners, acknowledged the work the commission has done so far to make licensed mid-band spectrum available for 5G, particularly scheduling an auction of 280 MHz of C band spectrum later this year.
“Nonetheless, given the importance of mid-band spectrum to more widespread 5G deployment, we urged the Commission to consider licensing part of the 6 GHz band,” according to Verizon’s ex parte filing (PDF). “We explained the challenges of getting additional midband spectrum for 5G to market in the foreseeable future, particularly given the considerable difficulties associated with sharing the lower 3 GHz band with federal incumbents.”
Verizon supports making much of the 6 GHz band available for unlicensed use, but told the commission that seeking additional comment on licensed use for some portion of the band doesn’t need to delay action on unlicensed.
“Doing so would provide an important option for the Commission should other paths to licensed mid-band spectrum not move as quickly as hoped,” the operator said.
Last week, the FCC decided to delay the auction of the CBRS Priority Access License (PALs) by one month, pushing the start date to July 23 instead of June 25. The FCC said there are no plans to delay the C-band auction, which is set to start in December.
In a note for investors over the weekend, New Street Research policy analyst Blair Levin said the C-band auction is likely to commence on its current timetable, although the transition timing could be affected.
Even while the vast majority of the FCC is working remotely, “we think the FCC staff is capable … of doing the tasks necessary to begin the auction on December 8,” he wrote. “The work that needs to be done is information-based work that does not require a physical presence.”
He added that starting the auction on time is one thing, but completing the transition on time is another. The tasks necessary to start and conduct the auction can be done remotely, but “we doubt the same is true for the tasks necessary to complete the transition. We suspect that a number of those tasks require physical presence and collaborative work at close proximity that may well be delayed by the lost months of the current reality, which may be a matter of months but also may continue through much of the year.”
It’s also New Street’s understanding that the CBRS auction was delayed at the request of the bidders, who communicated to the FCC that they could not adequately prepare for the auction because they had to focus on their response to the COVID-19 crisis.
The potential bidders in the CBRS PAL auction include a number of smaller, localized and/or non-traditional carriers who don’t have the resources of larger enterprises to both prepare for an auction and address urgent needs. With CBRS, there’s little cost to a one-month delay and those interested in using the band can already do so on a General Authorized Access (GAA) basis, Levin noted.