NTIA could release more midband spectrum for 5G

The NTIA is coordinating with the DOD and other federal agencies to potentially release 100 megahertz of spectrum in the 3450-3550 MHz band for commercial wireless purposes. (Pixabay)

The U.S. federal government is in the process of studying more midband spectrum that could be released for 5G, which might help the U.S. remain competitive in the race to 5G. 

Under Commerce Department Secretary Wilbur Ross, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is coordinating with the Department of Defense (DOD) and other federal agencies to potentially release 100 megahertz of spectrum in the 3450-3550 MHz band for commercial wireless purposes.

Being that it is adjacent to the 3.5 GHz band makes it even more appealing. The FCC has already teed up the 3.5 Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) band for a unique sharing scenario; the rules are still being refinalized but taken together would give wireless operators a sizable swath of midband spectrum.

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CTIA was pleased to hear of the move. “We applaud DOD and the Administration for seeking out win-win opportunities and pledge to work cooperatively to ensure critical national security objectives are protected while unlocking new spectrum for commercial use,” said CTIA President and CEO Meredith Attwell Baker in a statement. 

Military radar systems in the U.S. currently operate in the 3450-3550 MHz band. DOD plans to submit a proposal under the Spectrum Pipeline Act to carry out an RF engineering study to determine the potential for introducing advanced wireless services in this band without harming critical government operations.

“We hope the result of this hard work will be a ‘win-win,’ enabling the continuing growth of the U.S. wireless industry while protecting radars that are vital for national security,” blogged David J. Redl, assistant secretary for Communications and Information and NTIA administrator.

Given that regulators in Europe and elsewhere already have deemed midband spectrum for wireless commercial use, the potential for international spectrum harmonization could lead to the creation of a global market for equipment that includes the 3450-3550 MHz band, he noted.

RELATED: T-Mobile skeptical of satellite industry proposal for 3.7-4.2 GHz band

Not surprisingly, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai was happy with the news, noting that the commission recently initiated a process to see whether all or part of the adjacent 3.7-4.2 GHz band, currently used by satellites, could be made available for terrestrial wireless. “Altogether, this could unleash a contiguous block of hundreds of megahertz of valuable spectrum for new technologies and services, including 5G,” he said in a statement.

It’s another encouraging bit of 5G spectrum-related news for the U.S. to come during Mobile World Congress, where operators from around the world are gathered this week. Pai announced earlier in the week that he’d like to get the upfront payment issue settled and a 28 GHz auction underway by November, followed soon thereafter by an auction for the 24 GHz band.

RELATED: FCC chief wants to auction 28 GHz spectrum this November

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel was in Barcelona as well and noted that the FCC currently has open dockets on a long list of potential new sources of spectrum: the 3.5 GHz, 3.7-4.2 GHz, 6 GHz, 24 GHz, 28 GHz, 32 GHz, 37 GHz, 39 GHz, 42 GHz, 47 GHz, 50 GHz, 70 GHz, 80 GHz and above 95 GHz bands, among others.

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