FCC proposes Nov. 14 as start of 28 GHz auction

spectrum
The FCC says the auction of millimeter wave spectrum follows on the heels of its action last week making the siting of small cells easier for 5G. (Pixabay)

Those who have been asking for one big millimeter wave auction of multiple spectrum bands may be disappointed by a proposal the FCC will consider at its April open meeting, but getting a date certain is encouraging for anyone itching for a spectrum auction.

The bidding in the auction for licenses in the 28 GHz band, which is designated as Auction 101, is scheduled to start on Nov. 14 under a proposal on the FCC’s April agenda. Bidding in the auction for licenses in the 24 GHz band, which is designated as Auction 102, is due to commence subsequent to the conclusion of bidding in Auction 101.

The FCC said the 1.55 GHz of spectrum available in these auctions will be licensed on a geographic area basis as established by prior commission actions, with 28 GHz licenses offered in two 425-MHz blocks by county and 24 GHz licenses offered in seven 100-MHz blocks by Partial Economic Area.

Pai, a Republican, announced at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, Spain, last month that a 28 GHz auction would be held in November and that the 24 GHz auction would soon follow—provided the upfront payment issue was addressed by May 13.

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

That came after Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel had been calling for the FCC to get an auction on the calendar, but Pai said it was legally unable to do so until the upfront payment issue was settled. That issue was addressed last Friday when President Donald Trump signed legislation fixing the technical problem associated with it.

By way of background, the FCC’s March 27 notice stated that the licenses for UMFUS in the 28 GHz band are being made available on a shared basis with Fixed-Satellite Services (FSS) earth stations on a co-primary basis. Up to three transmitting FSS earth stations may be located in each county that are not required to protect UMFUS operations within a specified interference zone.

RELATED: Nokia urges U.S. to hurry up and set spectrum auction calendar for 5G

Some commenters already have been weighing in on how auctions should go. AT&T has pressed (PDF) the commission to do everything it could to enable a prompt, single auction involving multiple millimeter wave bands to maintain U.S. leadership in 5G. 

T-Mobile also urged (PDF) the commission to move quickly on one big auction—one that would include the 24 GHz, 28 GHz, 37 GHz, 39 GHz and 47 GHz bands. T-Mobile noted that auctioning all of the spectrum together is particularly important to promoting more competition among wireless providers—including with respect to wireless carriers that have already obtained millimeter wave spectrum, namely Verizon and AT&T.

The Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) is also concerned about the amount of millimeter wave spectrum the two biggest U.S. carriers have been amassing and has argued (PDF) that the commission should resolve pending millimeter wave transactions in a way that makes more millimeter wave spectrum available.

The association says millimeter wave spectrum is especially important to many rural carriers’ operations and their ability to expand 4G deployments, suggesting that retaining a pre-auction spectrum limit and/or imposing case-by-case review on secondary millimeter wave transactions are two tools the commission could use to promote a competitive marketplace.

Nokia also pressed for U.S. action on 5G spectrum and suggested the commission lay the groundwork for the auction of multiple bands simultaneously. Notably, CEO Rajeev Suri used his keynote during a Nokia event on the eve of MWC to highlight the 5G race between the U.S. and China and told U.S. policy makers they should be more aggressive about making spectrum available.

The FCC will consider the auction proposal at its April 17 meeting, when it’s expected to kick off a public comment period on the process.