Part of FCC order says ‘no’ to mobile industry trade groups, sticks with sharing in 37 GHz band

FCC headquarters
The FCC will consider another rulemaking to unleash more millimeter wave spectrum. (Ser Amantio di Nicolao/CC BY-3.0)

There’s no doubt there’s something for everyone to love and hate in the FCC’s new 75-page document that discusses plans for millimeter wave spectrum bands. The report (PDF), which the commission will consider at its next open meeting in June, includes plans for everything but the kitchen sink.

In the “win” category for big mobile carriers, the report proposes to eliminate the preauction limit of 1250 megahertz as the amount of millimeter wave spectrum in the 28 GHz, 37 GHz and 39 GHz bands that an entity can acquire at auction.

Verizon and AT&T had argued that removing the limits will facilitate innovation and investment, while smaller carriers represented by the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) asserted that without limits, the largest service providers have the means and motivation to prevent smaller and regional service providers from acquiring the millimeter wave spectrum they need.

In the “not-so-great” category for carriers big and small, the FCC rejected recommendations by CTIA, CCA, 5G Americas and T-Mobile to adopt exclusive area licensing in the 37-37.6 GHz band. Instead, the commission said it’s sticking with its previous plan and finds it’s in the public interest to license a portion of the band on a nonexclusive basis and to license the remainder of the band by geographic area to give potential licensees additional opportunity to access large blocks of spectrum or to use 37 GHz spectrum in combination with, and similarly to, 39 GHz spectrum.

New America’s Open Technology Institute is pleased with that decision.

“The proposed order and further notice maintains an opportunity for a wide variety of small operators and local users to gain shared access to 600 megahertz at the lower end of the 37 GHz band where federal users will continue to operate,” said Michael Calabrese, director of the institute’s Wireless Future Project, in a statement. “If adopted, rejecting the effort by mobile carriers to preclude any shared, non-exclusive access to the millimeter wave bands on a license-by-rule basis will be a big victory for promoting innovation and competition that will enrich America’s future 5G wireless ecosystem.”

The plan calls for licensing the lower 37 GHz band as six 100 megahertz channels, which will allow for a sufficient acquisition of spectrum by smaller users while still allowing for aggregation by larger entities, according to the report.

The commission previously directed the Wireless Bureau and Office of Engineering and Technology to collaborate with NTIA and federal stakeholders, as well as industry and other industry parties, to define a sharing framework. The report released Thursday takes that initial collaboration into consideration and presents another opportunity to open a dialog about how sharing can best be implemented and achieved in the lower 37 GHz band prior to the adoption of final rules.

“We look forward to continuing to work with NTIA, Federal stakeholders and industry to complete development of the sharing mechanisms,” the report states.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced the June meeting agenda in a blog post Wednesday, saying he was circulating a Third Report and Order and Further Notice on the Spectrum Frontiers proceeding that “takes the next steps necessary to promote U.S. leadership in 5G and to deliver advanced wireless services to American consumers.”