CTIA presses Congress for more midband spectrum for 5G

Meredith Attwell Baker
CTIA President and CEO Meredith Attwell Baker encouraged Congress to open more midband spectrum for 5G. (CTIA)

The first full hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation of the 116th Congress was all about—wait for it—5G and spectrum. CTIA President and CEO Meredith Attwell Baker called it “fitting” in her written testimony.

The United States is well positioned to deliver on the promises of 5G, but lawmakers and industry leaders need to redouble collective efforts to promote more friendly policies, Baker wrote: “The main building block required is spectrum and we need more of it—specifically midband spectrum—to maintain our global leadership role in wireless.”

The entire ecosystem of the wireless industry—nationwide carriers, chipset makers and device manufacturers—is pushing forward on 5G deployment plans, and the rollout is underway in 10 states, according to Baker. “U.S. wireless providers will invest some $275 billion in 5G-related networks—creating 3 million new jobs and adding $500 billion to our economy, according to Accenture,” she wrote.

While CTIA is pleased with the progress to date, she encouraged lawmakers to not take their foot off the accelerator: “To fully realize the technical breakthroughs we are talking about, we need more spectrum, and we need it as soon as possible.” Additional spectrum remains a pressing issue, and gaining a predictable pipeline for spectrum will advance 5G efforts and help the United States match the efforts of foreign governments, Baker added.

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“Where the United States needs to make quick progress in the near term is on midband spectrum,” Baker wrote. She called it a “workhorse band for 5G” that represents the “'sweet spot' of spectrum innovation.” Midband spectrum will unleash the full potential of 5G services because it’s uniquely positioned to deliver capacity and coverage that are necessary to make faster connections and low latency a reality, according to Baker.

She cited a report from Analysis Group that estimates 400 MHz of midband spectrum will drive $274 billion in gross domestic product and 1.33 million new jobs. Baker lauded efforts by the FCC to make more spectrum available, but noted that time is of the essence because Japan, Spain, South Korea, China, Australia, Germany and the United Kingdom have all assigned, auctioned or are in the process of making midband spectrum available to wireless operators within the first half of this year.

“The reality is wireless carriers in many countries have access to midband spectrum, and U.S. operators do not today,” Baker wrote. While the FCC’s forthcoming auction of 70 MHz of 3.5 GHz spectrum is a great start, carriers will need hundreds of megahertz of midband spectrum to deliver on the 5G promise and opportunity, she added.

“We have the right policy proposals, now we need to focus on following through and getting assets in the hands of our innovators swiftly with a clear schedule of auctions,” Baker wrote. “The best available option is the 3.7 GHz band of spectrum under current FCC review.”

Baker concluded her written testimony with a call for passage of an updated version of the AIRWAVES Act, which was introduced last year but never made it into law. “Passing the AIRWAVES Act is the most important step this committee can take to ensure that our nation has the spectrum resources it needs to move full speed ahead with our 5G deployments and ensure American leadership,” she wrote.