The FCC will finally take up the 3.5 GHz Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) band at its Oct. 23 open meeting.
The item has been a long time coming since it was referred back to the commission for rule revisions. The FCC originally approved the rules in 2015 but CTIA and T-Mobile filed petitions for reconsideration last year, and rulewise the band has officially been in limbo ever since.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai didn’t reveal the specifics of the proposed changes in his blog post Monday but did note that they will include a provision addressing expectations for renewals, meaning licenses will last longer than originally proposed.
“Commissioner Mike O’Rielly has taken the lead on exploring ways to better use the 3.5 GHz band, and I commend him for his efforts,” Pai wrote. “This month, we’ll take up the plan he’s developed. It makes targeted changes to our rules to promote investment and innovation in this important band. For example, by allowing providers to renew 3.5 GHz licenses, we will substantially increase their incentives to deploy 5G networks using this spectrum.”
Pai appointed O’Rielly as the point person on the 3.5 GHz band proceeding, and O’Rielly gave his recommendations to the chairman earlier this year. When the CBRS band was initially set up under former Chairman Tom Wheeler in 2015, both then-commissioners expressed reservations about parts of the proceeding.
Wireless operators have been pushing for authorization of Priority Access Licenses (PALs) on 10-year terms “with renewal expectancy” and larger geographic areas to be auctioned for licensed use. WISPs and industrial IoT stakeholders pushed back, saying they prefer the census tract sizes that were originally built into the rules, enabling more entities to participate in the whole CBRS band.
Still, the debate did not stop action from happening in the band. The General Authorized Access (GAA) portion does not require an auction of licenses, and that part is expected to get commercially launched before year’s end as both industry and government entities have been moving forward on the band.
Under its 5G FAST Plan, the commission says it’s pursuing a comprehensive plan to get more spectrum into the market, update its infrastructure policy and modernize outdated regulations. Due to its propagation characteristics, midband spectrum is considered particularly important for 5G, and with its work on the 2.5 GHz, 3.5 GHz and 3.7-4.2 GHz bands, the FCC says it could make up to 844 megahertz available for 5G deployments.