FCC establishes procedures for 28, 24 GHz auctions, tees up 39 GHz for 2019

FCC headquarters
The FCC established application and bidding procedures for the separate 28 GHz and 24 GHz auctions. (Ser Amantio di Nicolao/CC BY-3.0)

The FCC established bidding procedures for the upcoming 28 GHz and 24 GHz auctions and proposed the next steps in getting the upper 37, 39 and 47 GHz bands ready for a single auction in the second half of 2019.

The moves pleased the industry’s trade association, CTIA. “Today’s forward-looking action by Chairman Pai and the FCC will help the United States win the global 5G race,” said Scott Bergmann, CTIA senior vice president for regulatory affairs, in a statement. “High-band spectrum is critical to meeting growing demand for connected devices, and will enable the Internet of Things and the smart cities of the future.”

Many in the cellular industry were pushing for a single auction of multiple bands of spectrum, saying that would help them better compete in the global race to 5G. But the FCC nixed that idea, in part because the 39 GHz band, which is getting keyed up along with the 37 and 47 bands, is just too fragmented and getting it ready for auction would delay the auction of the 24 GHz band.

Commissioner Brendan Carr referred to the fragmented state of the 39 GHz band in his written statement, noting that much of that fragmentation is due to the band's history. In the 1990s, companies were eyeing the band for wireless local loop (WLL) services, and the license areas were based on Rectangular Service Areas. The WLL business didn’t pan out and more complications were added to the band, such as auctions that included 50 MHz pairs of noncontiguous spectrum.

RELATED: FCC proposes Nov. 14 as start of 28 GHz auction

Through the notice the FCC passed today, the commission is taking steps to clean up the “mess” to reflect changes in technology, he said. Incumbents will be given vouchers equal in value to their existing licenses, and incumbents who choose not to sell their licenses will be guaranteed contiguous spectrum in the band.

Jessica Rosenworcel, the lone Democrat on the commission, said she appreciated that her colleagues agreed to auction the revamped 39 GHz band along with spectrum in the 37 and 47 GHz bands. “This is the right way to go,” she said in her statement. “Going forward, we should put a premium on auctioning 5G bands together, instead of offering them one-by-one.”

While Verizon has the lion’s share of 28 GHz licenses, AT&T is poised to launch its first 5G markets using the 39 GHz band. T-Mobile is relying heavily on its 600 MHz spectrum won in the incentive auction, while Sprint has a boatload of 2.5 GHz to use for 5G.

Carr noted that the U.S. is 4 GHz ahead of second-place China and making progress every day in the race to 5G, both on spectrum and infrastructure.

Separately, the FCC voted to speed access to utility poles to promote broadband and 5G deployment. Called “one-touch, make-ready,” the process is designed to speed deployment and reduce the costs of deploying broadband by allowing the party with the strongest incentive—the new attacher—to prepare the pole quickly rather than spreading the work across multiple parties.