FCC's move puts U.S. in stronger position for 5G leadership

The FCC took a huge step forward last week in getting the U.S. better positioned to compete in the race to 5G when it decided to propose new flexible service rules in the 28, 37, 39 and 64-71 GHz bands.

To be sure, a lot of interested parties would have liked to have seen more spectrum opened up in higher bands. As the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) points out, NYU Wireless described frequencies above 100 GHz as a "technical playground" that could lead to new technical innovations.

Companies like Teraphysics would "absolutely" like to see higher band spectrum considered, Don Battista, director of marketing strategy, told FierceWirelessTech. The danger of excluding E-Band 71-86 GHz and even higher frequencies is the enormous amounts of unused frequency these bands can make available. "This exclusion will deny users the timely use of these advances," he said.

As for frequencies above 86 GHz, the FCC said that while it's encouraged by commenters' expressions of interest, it believes the most appropriate means of proceeding is to consider proposals for use of specific frequency bands. It has one such proposal from Battelle Memorial Corporation seeking service rules for licensed use of the 102-109.5 GHz band, and it's inviting other interested parties to submit their proposals, including for authorizing use under its Part 15 rules.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is in a much better position having this rulemaking in place than it was before. Now we'll go to next month's ITU World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) 2015 in Geneva, Switzerland, demonstrating a leadership position in millimeter wave spectrum. According to the NPRM, to the extent it becomes appropriate to consider additional bands for millimeter wave mobile use in light of international developments, "we will work with relevant stakeholders to examine the suitability of those bands for mobile and other uses." So, it seems the FCC is leaving some things open and subject to negotiations. 

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said during the commission's meeting last week that the spectrum the FCC is proposing represents six times all of the commercial spectrum the agency has ever authorized. "The fact of the matter is, it's a huge increase, and we're doubling the amount of high band unlicensed spectrum, which would end up being 20 times all of the unlicensed spectrum in lower bands," he said. "I think we're far beyond 'whatever,' that we are taking a serious leap that creates a competitive opportunity for this nation to be a leader in the forthcoming 5G world."

As for operators, knowing there will be access to higher band frequencies should be of value in terms of longer-term planning and eventually the ability to offer faster speeds to end users. In a statement to FierceWirelessTech, T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) said it considers high-band spectrum as another tool in its chest. "We're always working on network enhancements and innovative solutions to give our customers a better experience," the company said. "That includes a future with 5G that starts with building block technologies like carrier aggregation, MIMO, Rich Communication Services and others. High frequency spectrum is one of those building blocks, and we're happy to see the FCC ensuring there is enough made available for all consumers."

Sprint (NYSE: S) and AT&T (NYSE: T) declined to comment, and a Verizon  (NYSE: VZ) spokesperson wasn't available. However, CTIA took the opportunity to remind everybody that it will take a "broad range of spectrum," including low- and medium-band spectrum, below 3 GHz and between 3 -- 6 GHz, as well as "streamlined infrastructure siting and more backhaul" for the industry to remain competitive.

The move to bring to market high‑band spectrum in bands above 24 GHz offers the potential for increased capacity and speeds, lower lag time and high‑density connections to "unleash the Internet of Things," Scott Bergmann, vice president of regulatory affairs at CTIA, said in a statement. Not unexpectedly, PCIA also praised the FCC's new rulemaking but repeated that access to additional spectrum "should be coupled with a framework that allows for streamlined wireless infrastructure deployment to meet the soaring consumer demand for mobile data."

The FCC just posted the entire 100+ page NPRM late last week, so it will be interesting to hear what other stakeholders have to say. --Monica