FCC looks to unleash spectrum above 95 GHz

While the commission was reminded of times when it didn’t make the right moves when it came to spectrum policy, the FCC unanimously agreed to seek comment on ways to put spectrum above 95 GHz to good use.

Currently, the commission has no rules permitting licensed or unlicensed communications above 95 GHz other than by amateur operators or on an experimental basis. The super high-band spectrum has long been considered in the unusable range, but the commission cited new developments in radio technology as reason to take another look at the spectrum.

“With this action, we’re seeking to unleash new wireless services and technologies in frequencies above 95 GHz. Now, I realize that some are skeptical that this spectrum can be used productively,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in his statement. “But the skeptics have been proven wrong before. In this decade, some said that spectrum above 3 GHz wasn’t really useful for mobile communications. Yet today, mid-band spectrum is ripe for Commission consideration—both because technology has advanced and the demand for mobile broadband is insatiable. And spectrum licenses above 24 GHz are already drawing multi-billion dollar attention from the private sector on the secondary market.”

RELATED: FCC to consider item on bands above 95 GHz at its February meeting

The FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) identifies specific frequency bands that could accommodate licensed, unlicensed and experimental use. Specifically, the item seeks comment on making a total of 102.2 gigahertz of spectrum available for licensed point-to-point services. 

Such bands would be licensed on a nationwide, nonexclusive basis and individual point-to-point links would be registered with a database manager. Because of the vast amount of spectrum potentially available, the point-to-point links hold the capability to transmit at much higher data rates than systems in lower frequency bands, according to the FCC.

The item also seeks comment on making a total of 15.2 gigahertz of spectrum available for use by unlicensed devices and on a proposal to create a new category of experimental licenses available in spectrum between 95 gigahertz and 3 terahertz. 

Commissioner Michael O’Rielly noted in his statement that the FCC needs to make sure every megahertz is used to its fullest potential but he cited a few examples of the commission not getting it right in the past, such as with the 5.9 GHz band and DSRC and earlier 28 GHz allocations.

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said there’s something “undeniably cool” about putting these stratospheric frequencies to use and converting their propagation challenges into opportunity. But she also said she worries that some of the proposed rules fail to heed the lessons of the past. For example, “we suggest we should continue to reward first-in-time registration, whether or not there is actual construction,” she said. “Should these airwaves prove valuable, this approach is teeming with potential for abuse.”

She also said it only adds to the blitz of bands that are already being discussed in the commission’s proceedings, a list that includes 410-512 MHz, 900 MHz, 3.5 GHz, 3.7-4.2 GHz, 6 GHz, 24 GHz, 28 GHz, 32 GHz, 37 GHz, 39 GHz, 42 GHz, 47 GHz, 50 GHz, 70 GHz and 80 GHz, among others.

RELATED: Rosenworcel: U.S. needs to plan next spectrum auction now or risk ceding 5G leadership to other nations

“What we need now is not more rulemaking and studying,” she said. “We need to announce our next spectrum auction. While we don’t have one on the calendar, other nations are moving ahead at warp speed with the auction of 5G airwaves… “It’s time we took the steps necessary to lead in 5G by making public when the United States will hold its next auction and making transparent our plans for every subsequent auction.”

Pai said the point is that the U.S. must be open to new technologies that haven’t even been developed. "And while we don’t know precisely how far the laws of physics will permit us to go, we do know there’s potential and interest.  Engineers and entrepreneurs need to have the ability to push the envelope," he said.

For its part, CTIA was pleased to hear more spectrum is being considered for wireless services. “We’re glad that the FCC continues to look for high, mid, and low-band spectrum opportunities to drive U.S. wireless leadership in 5G and meet consumer demand," said Scott Bergmann, CTIA senior vice president for Regulatory Affairs, in a statement. "We look forward to helping the FCC develop a record on how these spectrum bands can play a role in the next generation of wireless networks.”