NYU Wireless founder expects big appetite for millimeter wave spectrum this fall

NYU Wireless was instrumental in encouraging the FCC to aggressively unleash millimeter wave spectrum. (Pixabay)

As the FCC considers how to set up the bidding procedures for 28 and 24 GHz spectrum band auctions, the founding director of NYU Wireless is optimistic the auctions will attract plenty of interest from operators.

“I think there will be a huge appetite,” said Ted Rappaport, professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at NYU Tandon School of Engineering and founding director of NYU Wireless, where groundbreaking millimeter wave research was conducted. “The millimeter wave spectrum is needed not just for mobility but for fixed wireless and in-band backhaul. Millimeter wave offers enough bandwidth to provide wireless fiber-like connectivity between base stations, which is desperately needed. I think the industry is clamoring for the millimeter wave spectrum and it looks like millimeter wave is going to happen a lot faster than mid-band spectrum.”

The FCC last month adopted a Public Notice proposing to offer about 6,000 licenses through two auctions. Bidding in the 28 GHz auction will start on Nov. 14, with bidding in the 24 GHz auction starting immediately after the 28 GHz auction.   

RELATED: Editor’s Corner—Why the 28 GHz spectrum auction only covers 23.7% of the U.S. population

Verizon holds the most amount of 28 GHz spectrum through acquisition of licenses from Straight Path and XO Communications. The 28 GHz auction will only offer spectrum licenses covering 23.7% of the U.S. population, according to Stephen Wilkus, the CTO at Spectrum Financial Partners, whereas the 24 GHz auction will offer licenses in all 416 Partial Economic Areas.

T-Mobile is going to use the 600 MHz spectrum it got from last year’s incentive auction as a foundation for its 5G network, but most carriers are expected to use low-, mid- and high-band spectrum for 5G. If T-Mobile and Sprint are allowed to combine, that puts them in a better position to compete for millimeter wave spectrum. However, since any deal is not expected to be done until next year, that would seem to make the traditional quiet period during the auctions a bit problematic for these two carriers come November.  

Rappaport said he considers the proposed combination of T-Mobile and Sprint to be good for 5G and he thinks both Sprint and T-Mobile realize that the fiber backbone and millimeter wave spectrum are going to be important. Working as a single company is better for 5G economies of scale and time to market rather than duplicating efforts on two separate paths.

“5G is the renaissance of wireless and the bandwidths will be so far much greater than we’ve ever seen,” he told FierceWirelessTech. “It’s like bringing a fiber optic cable over wireless to each subscriber.” T-Mobile and Sprint likely realized the urgency to make the investments and having the deep pockets of SoftBank and Deutsche Telekom will make it a lot easier, he said.

NYU Wireless was instrumental in encouraging the FCC to aggressively unleash millimeter wave spectrum and the U.S. is in a leading position in that respect.  

RELATED: Nokia, DoCoMo to demo 5G NR at 90 GHz during Brooklyn 5G Summit

NYU Wireless just wrapped up its annual Brooklyn 5G Summit last week and operators overall were more confident about the business case around 5G than years prior, according to NYU Wireless Director Sundeep Rangan. A lot of operators are saying that all spectrum bands—low, mid and high—are going to be relevant in 5G.

The auction came up during the joint T-Mobile-Sprint conference call on Sunday, where T-Mobile CEO John Legere said each company has its own opinion on the auctions and suggested they may seek some kind of waiver, but it wasn't clear exactly how that would work.

T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray during the call said T-Mobile’s current millimeter holdings include 200 megahertz across 100 million POPs, or seven of the top 10 U.S. markets. The idea would be to leverage millimeter wave in urban environments, but they're not looking to use millimeter wave to cover every square mile of the country.