FCC to explore wireless operations above 24 GHz, presaging '5G' networks

The FCC is going to start exploring whether and how wireless services can be used in extremely high-band spectrum frequencies above 24 GHz, potentially presaging work carriers will engage in to develop "5G" networks.

In announcing its agenda for its Oct. 17 open meeting, the FCC said it will vote on a Notice of Inquiry to "explore innovative developments in the use of spectrum above 24 GHz for mobile wireless services, and how the Commission can facilitate the development and deployment of those technologies."

In a blog post, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler wrote that the inquiry is aimed at broadening the FCC's "understanding of the state of the art in technological developments that will enable the use of millimeter wave spectrum above 24 GHz for mobile wireless services."

He noted that "early studies show that these new technologies--what some are calling '5G'--can ultimately facilitate a throughput of up to 10 Gigabits/second, a speed that is orders of magnitude greater than that available today. Our effort here is to learn about the technology and ensure a regulatory environment where these technologies can flourish."

It's unclear exactly what the scope of the inquiry will be, but it could be related to multiple technologies or potential future wireless use cases. BTIG analyst Walter Piecyk said it could be related to line of sight and to point-to-point connections, or point-to-multipoint.

Current Analysis analyst (and FierceWireless contributor) Peter Jarich said the traditional use of spectrum in those high bands has been for backhaul or narrow-beam technologies, because of the spectrum's weak propagation characteristics. He also mentioned point-to-multipoint as an option.

Wireless carriers and network vendors have consistently discussed high-band spectrum and millimeter wave technologies as two fronts in the development of next-generation 5G networks. Jarich said the FCC's inquiry could be based on how to use very-high-band spectrum in the radio access layer of networks for expanded capacity.

In a statement, CTIA President Meredith Attwell Baker said the trade group is "pleased the FCC will open a proceeding to investigate the use of non-traditional spectrum bands for mobile wireless services."

"The mobile broadband ecosystem continues to evolve to include new services and technologies, making it essential for policymakers to identify new sources of spectrum, and we look forward to working [with] the Commission as it starts this inquiry," she said.

Meanwhile, the FCC also said it will consider a Report and Order to promote the deployment of wireless infrastructure. Wheeler wrote that Distributed Antenna System networks and other small-cell systems "use components that are a fraction of the size of traditional macrocells and can be installed--unobtrusively--on utility poles, buildings, and other existing structures." He noted that the draft order crafts "a far more efficient process for small deployments that do not trigger concerns about environmental protection or historic preservation."

Wheeler also wrote that the draft order implements "federal statutory directives that are intended to make state and local review more efficient for wireless deployments and modifications that are highly unlikely to affect local communities. At the same time, it preserves our commitment to safeguarding the essential roles that state, local and tribal governments play in this process."

Baker said the CTIA welcomes "the FCC's efforts to streamline this process. I am pleased that the FCC will be taking this important step to help boost America's economy by providing shovel-ready jobs and meeting consumers' demands for mobile Internet anytime, anywhere. "

For more:
- see this FCC agenda (PDF)
- see this FCC blog post
- see this Broadcasting & Cable article

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