NYU Wireless pushes for FCC to act fast on releasing mmW spectrum

With a Feb. 17 reply comment deadline coming up on the FCC's Notice of Inquiry (NOI) on the use of spectrum above 24 GHz, researchers at New York University (NYU)-Wireless are once again sounding the horn that the FCC has the power to put the U.S. in the driver's seat when it comes to the race to 5G.

World-renowned wireless researcher Ted Rappaport, founder and director of NYU Wireless, who's been driving research into the use of millimeter wave (mmW) spectrum, acknowledged during a conference call with reporters today that some parties have filed comments in the FCC's proceeding urging the FCC to keep the focus on existing and lower band spectrum. There's a belief held by some that mobile services are best served below 6 GHz.

But that kind of philosophy will only hold back the U.S. economy. "You're fundamentally limited" there, he said, with limited bandwidth. "I think America loses that way," he said, noting that governments in other countries provide funding for their technology initiatives while the U.S. relies on the capital systems.

But, he said, the FCC has a great "equalizer," this one resource that it can release to provide great benefits for the country, and that's the spectrum above 24 GHz.

When using the millimeter wave frequencies, like 24 GHz, 30 GHz and above, "you can carry so much more bandwidth than you can in today's wireless channels," he said. "You can imagine downloading movies in fractions of a second or being able to carry all the information you'd ever need for your entire college curriculum in a download that takes a couple of seconds... Information beaming at rates you'd never have thought."

Considering the pace at which mobile data and other services are growing, "this wireless industry desperately needs this ability to carry greater capacity," he said. At millimeter wave frequencies, "the frequencies become the size of a human fingernail," whereas today the wavelengths are about the size of a phone, allowing for only a few antennas, but as you go to millimeter wave frequencies, "you start to create new kinds of antennas that have dozens or even hundreds of tiny antenna elements on the skin of the phone … to create very narrow beams of energy."

Backhaul remains a pain point in today's cellular networks. "The beauty of millimeter wave is there's so much more bandwidth," he said, going from megahertz to Gigahertz, that it could be used to provide backhaul or mesh-like systems. Instead of lighting all those sites with fiber, operators could use mmW for backhaul. "That's a game changer," representing a huge opportunity and greater flexibility, he said.

He used the analogy of a beaker of water. Today's spectrum fills up the first 3 ounces, but the beaker is 100 ounces tall, so "we're talking about using the other 97 ounces that don't have water in it," going all the way up to 300.

While other 5G technologies are being considered, they are more complementary and can work in conjunction with millimeter wave, said Sundeep Rangan, NYU Wireless co-director.

Last year, the NYU Wireless research team presented its findings in the Microwave Journal indicating that mm-wave frequencies show great promise for the future of wireless because of the large, raw, available, unused bandwidth.

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