While Verizon has been perhaps the most aggressive in its 5G ambitions, other carriers also are eyeing the higher spectrum bands for 5G – for good reason. Millimeter wave spectrum represents new opportunities to add capacity and faster speeds for next-generation services, and clearly, there's a lot of it.
In its Spectrum Frontiers proceeding, the FCC decided to focus on spectrum bands where the most spectrum is potentially available. The following maps, provided by Allnet Insights & Analytics, show available spectrum for various bands.
Specifically, the FCC identified the 27.5-28.35 GHz band (28 GHz), the 38.6-40 GHz (39 GHz), the 37-38.6 GHz band (37 GHz) and the 64-71 GHz band. Additional bands could be considered in the future. The 31 GHz band is part of the LMDS band.
By way of background, the FCC in 1997 developed a band plan making available 1,300 megahertz of LMDS spectrum in each basic trading area (BTA) across the United States. The commission allocated two LMDS licenses per BTA – an "A Block" and a "B Block" in each. The A Block license is comprised of 1,150 megahertz of total bandwidth, while the B Block license consists of 150 megahertz of total bandwidth.
The reason there is so much high-band spectrum in the FCC's hands is due to the fact that many companies that were allocated the LMDS licenses years ago decided they weren't going to make a business of it and gave it back, or the FCC essentially foreclosed on the licenses because companies were not going to meet buildout requirement deadlines. The original intent of the LMDS spectrum typically was to use it on top of apartment buildings as a TDD system, with data going from the operator's site to the customer a higher percentage of the time compared to the amount of time data from the customer goes up to the operator's site due to the imbalance between web download traffic and web upload traffic, according to Brian Goemmer, president of Allnet Insights and Analytics.
The 39 GHz spectrum is ideally suited for point-to-point backhaul. The 24 GHz band includes five different channels and is similar to 39 GHz in that it's also ideal for point-to-point microwave. The 28 GHz spectrum, where many companies currently are conducting or eyeing tests, initially will be deployed to support fixed wireless services.
Many vendors and some operators have sought Special Temporary Authority (STA) to conduct millimeter wave band tests in various U.S. markets. Some operators already own some high-band spectrum rights. T-Mobile US, for example, has spectrum holdings in the 28 GHz and 39 GHz bands, and it's moving forward with 5G tests and trials this year. If its acquisition of XO Communications is approved, Verizon would be able to lease of XO's spectrum in the 28 GHz and 39 GHz bands, with the option to buy before the end of 2018. It's worth noting that while both T-Mobile and Verizon have ties to the upper-band spectrum, neither has millimeter wave licenses that cover the entire country. According to Allnet Insights & Analytics, AT&T doesn't hold any of the higher-band spectrum, and Sprint has some LMDS 28 GHz spectrum in Alaska.