While Wi-Fi advocates are applauding the move by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to make 1,200 megahertz of 6 GHz spectrum available for unlicensed use – the FCC will vote on a proposal at its April 23 meeting – Ericsson is among those asking the FCC to consider licensing some of the band.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on Wednesday announced that he is circulating draft rules that would make 1,200 megahertz of spectrum available for unlicensed use. If approved, unlicensed devices would share the spectrum with incumbent licensed services, which would be protected under the new rules. Part of the order calls for an automated frequency coordination (AFC) system to enable sharing.
Prior to Pai’s announcement, Ericsson (PDF), as well as CTIA (PDF), had been urging the commission to explore repurposing the upper portion of the band for licensed use. They pointed to the severe shortage of mid-band spectrum for 5G in the U.S. compared to other countries. Specially, they’ve identified the 6.425-7.125 GHz as prime for repurposing for licensed flexible use.
CTIA on Wednesday said it supports the FCC’s efforts to make the lower half of the 6 GHz band available for unlicensed use but reiterated that the United States faces a growing mid-band deficit. “It is essential that the FCC and the administration develop a roadmap to close this deficit before moving forward with plans to give away the full 1200 MHz in the 6 GHz band and further limit our few remaining options,” said CTIA Executive Vice President Brad Gillen in a statement.
“Licensed spectrum in the upper 6 GHz band is necessary to ensure U.S. 5G leadership by facilitating new wireless applications and services beneficial to consumers and businesses,” said Mark Racek, senior director, Regulatory Policy at Ericsson, in a statement. “At the same time, Ericsson recognizes the need for a mix of both licensed and unlicensed spectrum and, therefore, urges the FCC to move ahead with opening the lower 6 GHz range for unlicensed use if incumbent users can be assured of protection from interference, and we request the FCC to seek additional comment on licensed use of spectrum in the 6 GHz band.”
There’s a strong recognition that more licensed mid-band spectrum is necessary to support 5G in the U.S., but the tricky part is figuring out where it will come from. CTIA has identified two candidate bands to address the deficit: 3.1-3.55 GHz and 6 GHz. The FCC is considering possible rule changes to the 3.1-3.55 GHz band, which is used by federal incumbents.
The 70 megahertz for licensed use in the CBRS 3.5 GHz band that comes up for auction this summer and the 280 megahertz of C-band spectrum coming up for auction on December 8 are the most solid near-term prospects. However, “that amount of spectrum is not going to be sufficient,” Racek told Fierce.
“I think 6 GHz plays a substantial role in the ability of the U.S. not only to maybe catch up to what other countries are doing but also to maybe even take a leadership role in mid-band spectrum,” he said.
One of the reasons the 6 GHz is attractive is operators who own and control the fixed service links that are currently predominant in the band are generally supportive of using the frequencies for licensed services. Moving the current fixed users to an adjacent band would probably be easier than trying to move the incumbents in the C-band, for example, who are less gung-ho about moving. Opponents, however, argue that will take too much time.
In a statement after Pai’s announcement on Wednesday, Commissioner Mike O’Rielly, who played the lead advocate role for 6 GHz, signaled his support for the chairman’s proposal, and acknowledged that the action to permit all 1,200 megahertz of the band for unlicensed services means that proposals to license portions of the band were not accepted. “I fully support this outcome, but I also remain fully committed to identifying other mid-bands for licensed services,” he said.
“Simply put, U.S. wireless providers must have more mid-band spectrum to meet consumer demand, and I will fight to refill the spectrum pipeline for providers in the 6 GHz band,” he stated. “This effort is absolutely vital to preserving U.S. leadership in wireless technology and to alleviate the demands being placed on existing networks. I firmly believe that the most likely candidate bands for this purpose are federal spectrum allocations, such as the 3.1 to 3.55 GHz band, that can be converted to commercial use.”
Despite the chairman’s announcement and O’Rielly’s statement signaling defeat, the advocates for licensed 6 GHz remain hopeful. “There’s always hope,” Racek said, noting that some of the 6 GHz band could not only provide much-needed spectrum in the U.S., but it could become a harmonized global band as well. And, as he pointed out, the full commission isn't scheduled to vote on it until April 23, so there's still time.