As expected, the FCC voted to move forward with an incentive auction that combines the upper 37, 39 and 47 GHz bands, delivering a nice gift to the wireless industry.
The airwaves in the combined upper 37 and 39 GHz bands represent the largest amount of contiguous spectrum available for wireless service in the millimeter wave bands—2,400 megahertz in total—while the 47 GHz band provides an additional 1,000 megahertz of spectrum.
The auction, slated for the second half of 2019, will take place in two phases: a clock phase in which firms may bid on generic license blocks, and an assignment phase in which clock phase winners may bid on specific frequencies. Incentive payments will be offered to incumbents that choose to relinquish their spectrum usage rights to make new licenses available.
The FCC is modifying the band plans from 200 megahertz blocks to 100 megahertz blocks to be licensed as Partial Economic Areas (PEAs), which it says will facilitate the simultaneous auction of licenses in the three bands.
Commissioner Brendan Carr noted that the plan for the three millimeter bands will result in more spectrum being auctioned in a single year than at any time in the commission’s history. Combined with the first 5G smartphone, the first commercial launch of 5G in low-band spectrum and the first truly mobile 5G service, “2019 will be the Year of 5G,” he said. “To continue winning the race to 5G, we must keep up efforts like those that produced this item.”
Some groups had pushed the FCC to combine the 39 GHz band with the 24 GHz band, which will be auctioned off after the 28 GHz auction ends. The FCC said that plan carried complications—the 39 GHz band in particular has had a thorny, and some say messy, history. It was intended for Wireless Local Loop (WLL) services back in the 1990s, but that never panned out. The FCC attempted different strategies but the band ended up with scattered licenses and overlapping geographies.
Last summer, the FCC devised a plan to clean it up and get it ready for both incumbents and new users for the incentive auction that will be loosely patterned after the commission’s broadcast incentive auction.
Article updated Dec. 13 to correctly identify the third band as 47 GHz.