Industry applauds FCC’s move to release more spectrum for 5G

spectrum light (Pixabay)
Thursday’s spectrum action represents the FCC’s third Report and Order and third Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in three years relating to the millimeter wave bands. (Pixabay)

CTIA is keen on the FCC’s steps toward making more high-band spectrum available for 5G, reiterating that it’s going to take more than one type of spectrum band for the U.S. to win the race to 5G.

“CTIA and the wireless industry commend the FCC for taking steps to make more high-band spectrum available for 5G wireless use,” said Scott Bergmann, CTIA senior vice president of regulatory affairs, in a statement. “A pipeline of low, mid, and high band spectrum is essential to winning the global race to 5G and spurring new industries, such as the Internet of Things and autonomous vehicles.”

Consumer groups also found something to like. “The Commission’s decision to authorize nonexclusive sharing in the bottom 600 megahertz of the 37 GHz band creates a valuable opportunity for a wide variety of small operators and local users to gain access to high-capacity spectrum,” said Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Program at New America’s Open Technology Institute. “Extending dynamic and shared access to this band on a co-equal basis with NASA and other federal users on a license-by-rule basis represents another innovative FCC spectrum policy advance that will enrich America’s future 5G wireless ecosystem.”

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai made a point of thanking the FCC staff who worked on the item, which includes a bundle of things, or “building blocks,” in the FCC’s terms, to make more high-band spectrum available for advanced wireless services. “This was an all-hands-on-deck effort, and a very complicated one,” Pai said.

Among the building blocks, it sets forth additional rules for millimeter wave spectrum bands, including adopting an operability requirement for the entire 24 GHz band; a sharing framework to allow use of a portion of the 24 GHz band for terrestrial wireless operations and Fixed Satellite Service (FSS) earth stations; a band plan for the lower 37 GHz band; and spectrum aggregation rules applicable to certain bands.

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The item also seeks comment on making 2.75 GHz of additional spectrum in the 26 GHz and 42 GHz bands available for next-generation wireless services, tees up coordination mechanisms to facilitate shared use of the lower 37 GHz band between federal and nonfederal users, and among nonfederal users, and solicits feedback on potential rules for FSS use of the 50 GHz band for a limited number of earth stations. 

Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said some sections in the overall item caused concerns, including a suggestion that federal operations could expand in the upper 37 GHz even if such an expansion is limited or on an “as-needed” basis. The federal government needs to reduce its spectrum footprint, not expand it, he said.

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said the decision to limit any preauction limits for high-band spectrum and replace them all with postauction case-by-case review “misses the mark,” and on that aspect of the decision, she dissented.

She also noted that the FCC has yet to put out a public calendar about just when additional airwaves will be made available and acknowledged the many pleas from the wireless community for putting millimeter bands together in one big auction rather than conducting a string of separate auctions.

“The FCC is timidly moving to auction millimeter wave bands one by one instead of boldly all together,” she said. “We need to structure each and every one of our actions going forward in a way designed to bring in different spectrum interests with new ideas that may not always look like the bidders of the past.”

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Pai said Thursday’s spectrum action represents the FCC’s third Report and Order and third Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in three years relating to the millimeter wave bands and the Spectrum Frontiers proceeding. In the Spectrum Horizons proceeding, it’s broken new ground in spectrum above 95 GHz, to explore the potential of ultrahigh bands. Critically, it’s also pursuing infrastructure policies that are vital to ensure the 5G future in the U.S. and planning for auctions to start this fall, he said.