CTIA cites new report as reason to back larger geographic licenses at 3.5 GHz

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CTIA says nations around the world are adopting larger license sizes as a way to promote prompt and efficient buildout of 5G networks. (Fierce Wireless)

CTIA submitted a new report to the FCC showing other countries’ approach to midband spectrum, and most of them are using a national licensing scheme as opposed to basing it on smaller geographical areas.

The report by Analysys Mason backs up CTIA’s claims that larger license sizes will make the U.S. more competitive when it comes to 5G. As it stands, the rules for the 3.5 GHz Citizens Band Radio Services (CBRS) that were passed in 2015 call for census tract-sized license areas. CTIA filed a petition last year aiming to change the CBRS rules for longer license terms and larger license sizes.

The latest Analysys Mason report that CTIA submitted to the FCC (PDF) examines the geographic licensing approaches to midband spectrum for the U.S. and 12 other countries—Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, the United Kingdom, Australia, Spain and Sweden.

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Most of the countries are planning or are expected to release midband spectrum for 5G on a national basis. Canada and Australia are adopting a regional approach, but even there, the license areas will cover a significantly larger population per license compared to the U.S. The report notes that if the licensing size in Canada were a baseball field, including outfield, the U.S. census tract proposal would be smaller than the pitcher’s mound.

RELATED: CTIA: Study shows China with narrow lead over U.S. in race to 5G

CTIA argues that census tract licensing will hinder the development of the 3.5 GHz band and impede U.S. companies as they compete in the global race to 5G. When the rules for 3.5 GHz were adopted in the U.S., it wasn’t as clear how many other nations were going to use the midband spectrum for 5G.

While CTIA is arguing for the larger licenses, companies in the Industrial IoT, WISPs and others want to keep the small census tracts that they view as more localized and affordable. The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA), for example, has complained that efforts were underway to “shove aside” the interests of rural America and turn the “Innovation Band” into a “same ol’ thing” band.

Analysys Mason previously conducted a study for CTIA that shows China with a slight lead in 5G readiness, with South Korea and the U.S. close behind. CTIA used that study to support its calls for infrastructure reform and speedy time to market with spectrum auctions. CTIA President and CEO Meredith Attwell Baker told FierceWirelessTech in April that the U.S. could still pull ahead and win the 5G race if it acts fast.

Analysys Mason’s latest report shows that China has 500 MHz of spectrum within the 3.3-3.6 GHz and 4.8-5.0 GHz to be released, with the 3.3-3.4 GHz range subject to indoor use. Details haven’t been specified, but assignment is expected in 2018/2019 in line with commercial launch schedules.

RELATED: Sprint CTO: Together we can build much bigger 5G network

South Korea auctioned 280 MHz of spectrum in the 3420-3700 MHz range on a national basis in June 2018, the report notes.

Of course, T-Mobile and Sprint are making their proposed merger pretty much all about 5G, saying their merger into one larger entity is going to make the U.S. more competitive. Sprint brings to the table its trove of 2.5 GHz spectrum, most of which is unused today, while T-Mobile has a swath of 600 MHz and other spectrum to use for 5G.

Sprint CTO John Saw, who won this year’s Fierce Wireless Rising Stars contest, has said Sprint is not slowing investment in its network while its proposed merger with T-Mobile gets reviewed, but it will be able to offer a much more compelling 5G service if it is allowed to combine the two.