Low-band spectrum, check. High-band spectrum, check. Midband spectrum, not quite yet. But CTIA is urging the FCC to move forward in July on both the 3.5 GHz and the 3.7-4.2 GHz bands to ensure the United States wins the global race to 5G.
CTIA always has lobbied for more spectrum for the mobile industry, but its voice is taking on renewed urgency as the rest of the world moves ahead in the 3.5 GHz space in particular. In the U.S., the FCC set up a unique sharing model for the 3.5 GHz band, also known as the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) band. It’s the licensed portion of the 3.5 GHz band that has been the subject of much debate in the U.S.
In a May 30 letter to the FCC, CTIA President and CEO Meredith Attwell Baker spells out all the reasons the FCC needs to step up efforts to get 3.5 GHz into the market. Citing an Analysys Mason study, she said the U.S. ranks only sixth out of 10 countries studied with respect to mid-band spectrum availability, and other nations around the world are accelerating 5G deployment by streamlining access to mid-band spectrum.
South Korea announced plans to auction 3.5 GHz spectrum in June, and Japan committed to release spectrum in the 3.6-4.2 GHz range by March 2019, she noted. China already released 100 megahertz of spectrum in the 3.5 GHz range to each of its national operators, which are deploying early 5G gear for tests in multiple cities.
“Notably, the standards for 5G terminals and base stations in the 3.5 GHz band are being finalized now, and the world is marching toward deployment this year,” Attwell Baker wrote. “That is why it is imperative that the Commission act quickly to make additional mid-band spectrum available for wireless use and set a clear schedule of future spectrum auctions.”
Of course, there are myriad stakeholders that want the rules for the 3.5 GHz CBRS band to go their way, and CTIA is among them. The association reached a compromise with the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) this spring that accommodates smaller geographic license areas based on counties and Cellular Market Areas (CMAs), but it’s adamantly opposed to using census tracts, which it says would materially inhibit 5G deployment and preclude full-power operation in some instances. Other groups are pushing for census tracts and/or more smaller licensed areas.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said he’s ready to put a 3.7-4.2 GHz band item on the FCC’s July agenda, so that’s moving forward. If indeed the chairman were to add the 3.5 GHz band to the agenda, it would make it a potentially banner month for mid-band.