FCC's Wheeler 'supremely confident' incentive auction will take place in March

LAS VEGAS -- FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is "supremely confident" that the 600 MHz incentive auction will happen next March as planned, he told an audience at CTIA Super Mobility 2015.

The auction, which Wheeler has described as a Rubik's cube with as many moving parts, has never been done before in the history of the world, yet Wheeler said he believes it can be pulled off -- with the voluntary participation of the broadcasters. "We're going to have broadcasters showing up for this," he said in response to questions from moderator Jon Healey, editorial writer with the Los Angeles Times.

By the time the next CTIA show rolls around next year, "we will have concluded a successful incentive auction" and a process will be in place where 600 MHz spectrum will be available for new services, he said.

Last month, the FCC released a roadmap for how it expects the process to work. A lot of skeptics question whether the FCC will be able to pull it off, as evidenced by the questions Wheeler fielded on stage. Wheeler stuck to his guns, however, saying a new public notice will be released around Columbus Day with payment schedules and other information. Around Thanksgiving, broadcasters will have a chance to raise their hands on specific issues.

Wheeler previously has pointed out that the incentive auction offers one of the last opportunities for competitors to acquire significant quantities of low-band spectrum, and he suggested there will be opportunities for new players to use 600 MHz.

Wheeler,a former CTIA president himself, said he disagreed with one thing that CTIA President and CEO Meredith Attwell Baker said in her introduction to the CTIA event: "There is a plan" when it comes to getting spectrum beyond the next auction.

"We're the world leader in 4G," and "we're going to maintain that in 5G, he said. "There is nothing in our rules that will stop 600 MHz from being used for 5G," at the same time new spectrum will be released in the higher bands, and he vowed to move with speed to make sure spectrum is available to maintain U.S. leadership in 5G.

On the topic of unlicensed and licensed uses, Wheeler noted that there are many flavors of LTE-U right now, and licensed and unlicensed must work together. He's leaving it up to the industry and standards bodies to work it out -- and they should move with dispatch, rather than having the FCC step in. For now, the FCC is not approving LTE-U devices, he said.

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