The FCC is set to make moves later this month on more mid-band spectrum for 5G.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on Tuesday circulated a draft proposal with steps to prepare the 3.45-3.55 GHz band for commercial use. That 100-megahertz swath of spectrum is held by federal military users and in August the White House and Department of Defense decided it could support commercial 5G services. The White House had urged the FCC to issue a proposed rulemaking as soon as possible, so that an auction could take place in 2021.
The commission will consider the item at its open meeting on September 30.
It includes a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that asks for comment on proposed rule changes to the 3.45 GHz band to allow commercial operations and coordination among non-federal and federal users. More details are due once the draft proposal is released publicly.
Last month after the White House announcement, Pai said the FCC looked forward to moving quickly on adopting service rules for the band and then holding an auction.
Tuesday’s announcement (PDF) said the draft item “would take decisive steps toward making the 3.45-3.55 GHz band available for commercial use throughout the contiguous United States.”
Also up for vote at the September meeting is a related Report and Order, which would remove existing non-federal users from the 3.3-3.55 GHz band. Those changes were proposed in December 2019.
Federal users occupy much of the key mid-band frequencies, but NTIA and the FCC – as directed by Congress – have been working to figure out if it’s feasible to share the coveted spectrum resources with commercial users.
“We are moving forward quickly, in coordination with the Executive Branch, to ensure that this mid-band spectrum is available for commercial 5G deployment. This is another major step forward in advancing American leadership in 5G and producing benefits for America’s wireless consumers,” Pai said in a statement.
With the latest proposal, he noted that the FCC is on its way toward making 530 megahertz of contiguous mid-band spectrum available for 5G. The agency just completed an auction for 70 MHz of Priority Access Licenses (PALs) in the shared CBRS 3.5 GHz band, raising $4.58 billion. There’s also 80 MHz of unlicensed CBRS spectrum for general authorized access (GAA) use.
The next near-term opportunity for mid-band spectrum is the C-band auction, which starts December 8 and offers 280-megahertz in the 3.7-3.98 GHz band.
Wireless trade group CTIA praised today’s news.
“We applaud Chairman Pai’s continued efforts, through his successful 5G FAST Plan, to make more mid-band spectrum available for commercial 5G services,” said CTIA SVP of Regulatory Affairs Scott Bergmann, in a statement. “Quick delivery of exclusive use mid-band spectrum is critical to fueling our transition to a new, 5G economy, and we thank the FCC and Administration for recognizing this urgent need.”
In an August report, CTIA declared that repurposing government spectrum for licensed commercial users is a “win-win” for both wireless carriers and federal agencies. It pointed to the AWS-3 and AWS-1 auctions, which the group noted brought in billions of dollars in proceeds for agencies to upgrade wireless operations while also providing spectrum for commercial 4G services.
“The federal government has long been the largest spectrum user in the U.S., and expanding commercial use of these airwaves would represent a spectrum management win-win outcome,” stated CTIA SVP and General Counsel Tom Power.