Apple to test millimeter wave spectrum to prepare for 5G

Apple requested permission from the FCC to hold tests in the 28 and 39 GHz bands.

Apple plans to test millimeter wave frequencies as it prepares to enable support for 5G in its iconic smartphone.

The iPhone vendor filed documents with the FCC this week requesting an experimental license for tests in the 28 GHz and 39 GHz bands. The trials will be held at two “Apple-controlled” facilities in Silicon Valley—one in Cupertino, the home of Apple’s headquarters, and another in Milpitas—and won’t exceed 12 months, the company said in one filing (PDF).

Business Insider was among the first to report on the documents, which were made public by the FCC Tuesday.

“Now that the Commission has established serviced rules for these bands, Apple Inc. seeks to assess cellular link performance in direct path and multipath environments between base station transmitters and receivers using this spectrum,” the company said. “These assessments will provide engineering data relevant to the operation of devices on wireless carriers’ future 5G networks.”

Apple representatives didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from FierceWireless.

The filings come as wireless carriers are increasingly focused on millimeter wave spectrum as they plot their transitions to 5G, sparking a land grab for the high-band airwaves. Among other deals, Verizon earlier this month agreed to spend $3.1 billion to acquire Straight Path in a move that ended an aggressive bidding war with AT&T, and AT&T recently pocketed FiberTower, which also has spectrum in the 39 GHz band.

The FCC approved the use of the 28 GHz and 39 GHz bands for commercial 5G use last year.

The rise of 5G technologies has opened up the possibility for wireless carriers—and others—to offer both fixed and mobile services over high-band spectrum, like 26 GHz and above. While transmissions in these higher bands won’t travel anywhere near as far as transmissions in lower bands like 700 MHz, they do promise to allow carriers to provide much higher speeds and far greater capacity, albeit in smaller coverage areas.

The result would be pockets of super-fast internet service, likely in the kinds of dense, urban areas where well-heeled Americans live and work.

Apple said its tests will include the use of a horn antenna “with a half-power bandwidth of 20 degrees in the E-plane and H-plane and a downtilt between 20-25 degrees.”

As BGR noted, the year-long trial could mean Apple plans to incorporate 5G in a 2019 version of the iPhone. Standards are still being developed for 5G, however, and full-blown commercial deployments of truly mobile 5G—as opposed to mobile 5G—may not occur until 2020 or later.