5G Americas: U.S. needs mid-band spectrum, stat

spectrum
The 3.1-3.55 GHz band is a prime candidate, but the U.S. needs the cooperation of federal incumbent users in the band. (Pixabay)

5G can help the U.S. economy recover from the COVID-19 crisis, but the wireless industry needs access to mid-band spectrum if it’s going to seriously compete.  

That’s the message from 5G Americas, whose President Chris Pearson recently penned a blog post spelling out what 5G can do in the wake of the pandemic. 5G Americas membership includes AT&T, T-Mobile, Ericsson, Nokia and Qualcomm, among others. Verizon, notably, is not a member, while its need for mid-band spectrum for 5G is well publicized.

The organization’s call comes after FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly sent a letter to President Donald Trump in April imploring Trump to step in and use his “unique ability” to cut through bureaucratic stonewalling and force the Department of Defense (DoD) to reduce its spectrum footprint for the sake of 5G. Specific spectrum identified as the most urgent place to start include the 3.1-3.3 GHz and 3.3-3.55 GHz bands.

RELATED: FCC’s O’Rielly implores Trump to free mid-band spectrum from DoD

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Pearson said the U.S. really needs to get more mid-band spectrum for the wireless industry sooner rather than later, and he specifically pointed to the 3.1-3.55 GHz spectrum as a prime candidate. “I think the FCC realizes the importance of mid-band spectrum,” he noted.

The CBRS 3.5 GHz auction is scheduled to start July 23, and due to the FCC’s quiet period, Pearson declined to comment on that. However, wireless operator executives, while interested in the unlicensed and licensed part of the CBRS band, previously have characterized it as more encumbered due to the sharing regime and power restrictions.

The C-band auction, due to start December 8, is the next most near-term opportunity for operators to bid and acquire 280 megahertz of 3.7-4.2 GHz spectrum, but that already has legal challenges attached to it.

Pearson points to other countries that acted faster to get mid-band spectrum assigned for 5G. South Korea, for example, was early to bring out millimeter wave spectrum for 5G – as was the U.S., but Korea’s government also made a point of assigning mid-band spectrum to its three major wireless operators.

China’s total mid-band assignment by the end of 2020 is expected to tally 460 MHz, and Japan’s total mid-band assignment is expected to reach 1000 MHz by the end of this year, according to an Analysys Mason study.

Progress update

Two years ago, Congress passed the Mobile NOW Act, which required the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to submit a report to Congress by March 23, 2020, evaluating the feasibility of making the 3100 MHz-3550 MHz band available for commercial use. In January, the NTIA released a study covering only the upper part of the range (3450 MHz – 3550 MHz).

The second half of the report is expected within a couple months, and it’s “critically important” that the report show there’s more mid-band spectrum available in that range for the mobile industry, Pearson said.

Some of the questions that need answering include how the 3.1-3.55 GHz band currently is being used and how easy or hard it would be to move incumbents somewhere else.

While a lot of the information is confidential due to its ties to the DoD, Pearson said the industry can assign trusted representatives to sign confidentiality agreements and work with the government on sensitive issues; that’s been done previously with AWS spectrum.

He could not comment on the federal inter-agency problems that have been in play, the most recent example being Ligado. The FCC unanimously approved Ligado’s plan to operate in mid-band spectrum that the military and others claim could cause interference to their GPS. Last week, NTIA petitioned the FCC to reconsider its April decision.

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