NYU Wireless' Rappaport encouraged by US policy on 5G spectrum

One of the biggest proponents for unleashing millimeter wave spectrum in the U.S. said this week that he's encouraged by what the FCC is doing – in fact, it's exceeding even his expectations.

Ted Rappaport, IEEE fellow and founding director of NYU Wireless, along with a group of NYU Wireless students, authored the paper "Millimeter Wave Mobile Communications for 5G Cellular: It Will Work!" (PDF). The paper was published in May 2013, after which many vendors and operators started launching more millimeter wave experiments.

Rappaport told FierceWirelessTech this week that even he was surprised by the speed at which the FCC's rulemaking is happening and the amount of spectrum they're talking about releasing.

Earlier this week at the National Press Club, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said the commission's plan called for making a massive 14 gigahertz unlicensed band, which equates to 14,000 megahertz of unlicensed spectrum with the same type of flexible-use rules that prompted innovation in the past.

That represents much more than the amount of unlicensed spectrum that's currently available. "That's pretty amazing," Rappaport said, applauding the aggressive tact the U.S. is taking.

Wheeler said he would begin circulating among the commission the proposed new rules today (June 23) that will identify and open up vast amounts of spectrum for 5G applications. The commission is set to vote on the proceeding, known as Spectrum Frontiers, on July 14. The FCC voted 5-0 in October 2014 to launch an inquiry into how best to deploy next-generation wireless services at spectrum frequencies above 24 GHz, and stakeholders have been steadily filing comments on the proceeding.

Just over a year ago, Rappaport and his colleagues issued a stern warning, saying the U.S. was at risk of falling behind other parts of the world where strides in 5G research and development were being made. Unlike places like Asia, American policy doesn't call for picking winners and losers: The best course of action is to release spectrum and let the innovation occur, they said, creating a spectrum playground of sorts.

That's exactly what's happening now. Wheeler said if the commission approves his proposal next month, the United States will be the first country in the world to open up high-band spectrum for 5G networks and applications.

In his remarks at the National Press Club, Wheeler noted that Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam has been speaking lately about using 5G connectivity to expand high-speed broadband service to rural areas. "Fiber-fast wireless connectivity will deliver that long-sought goal of competitive high-speed internet access for consumers," Wheeler said.

Much of the industry has lost sight that millimeter wave, when implemented with proper antennas, really offers the same kind of coverage distances as today's microwave technology for both mobile and long-distance point-to-point links, Rappaport said. Rain and foliage remain obstacles, but those can be addressed with greater adaptive antenna gain.

With this new spectrum, "we should be able to provide unlicensed and licensed rural access in places that haven't been able to get the connectivity," Rappaport said.

Although Wheeler only mentioned the term "engineers" once, he did call them brilliant, which elicited a smile from Rappaport. Specifically, Wheeler said: "Brilliant engineers have developed new antennas that can aim and amplify signals, coupled with sophisticated processing, allowing a moving device to pick up all of the signals bouncing around and create one coherent connection. To make this work, 5G buildout is going to be very infrastructure intensive, requiring a massive deployment of small cells. But it also opens up unprecedented opportunities for frequency reuse and denser, more localized, networks."

Rappaport has been working on millimeter wave technology for about 20 years and NYU Wireless has been working on it for at least the past five years. He called what the FCC is doing in its Spectrum Frontiers historic, allowing the U.S. to get out ahead in the international 5G race.

For more:
- see Wheeler's prepared remarks

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