CTIA's Baker: Getting more spectrum for mobile in years ahead is 'not going to be as easy'

CTIA President Meredith Attwell Baker thinks that the FCC's AWS-3 and 600 MHz incentive spectrum auctions will provide a springboard for wireless growth, but that getting more spectrum for mobile broadband beyond the auctions is going to be difficult.

Referring to the auctions, Baker told The Hill they "will probably be our 5G platform." Most industry experts expect "5G" networks to be commercially deployed around 2020.

"The sooner we can get that spectrum in the hands of the commercial broadband providers, the better edge we're going to have in developing a 5G economy," she said. The AWS-3 auction for mid-band spectrum is still ongoing and has so far a raised $39.52 billion in provisional winning bids through 42 rounds, though the spectrum likely won't be deployed on a nationwide basis for several years. The incentive auction is scheduled to start in early 2016.

Baker said that the industry and regulators will need to work harder in the years to come to squeeze more available bandwidth for wireless from existing mobile spectrum. That's in part because there are few unused spectrum holdings below 3 GHz left. The AWS-3 auction is a vivid illustration of that, as the 1695-1710 MHz and 1755-1780 MHz bands are currently in government hands, and government users will need to be relocated from the spectrum or carriers will need to share airwaves.

Further, carriers and the FCC are starting to look at spectrum above 3 GHz for future wireless use, including millimeter wave spectrum, which many think could be part of 5G networks. "The next spectrum battles are going to be battles," Baker said. "As we look for spectrum, it's not going to be as easy. There aren't as many low-hanging fruits."

"We're going to have to be really technical about how we approach it," Baker added.

Baker also reiterated the wireless trade group's opposition to net neutrality rules that would heavily affect wireless carriers. Last month President Barack Obama said the FCC should pass the "strongest possible" rules for net neutrality, and said the rules "have to reflect the way people use the Internet today, which increasingly means on a mobile device."

"I believe the FCC should make these rules fully applicable to mobile broadband as well, while recognizing the special challenges that come with managing wireless networks," Obama said.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said that he is open to the rules applying more to wireless, but Baker, a former FCC commissioner, said that such rules would undercut wireless innovation and tie carriers' hands when faced with spectrum constraints and other network limitations.

"Mobile is different in the fact that it's not at all the same," Baker said. "They may look the same to the consumer, but the technical complexity, I think everyone understands."

For more:
- see this The Hill article

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