Rosenworcel: 2.5 GHz auction, receiver inquiry on the way

The U.S. will kick off an auction of 2.5 GHz airwaves in July, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced during her keynote at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on Tuesday.

One of her first actions as chairwoman was to pivot the U.S. to mid-band spectrum for 5G, a cause that she had championed well before she was appointed chair.

The FCC recently closed the 3.45 GHz auction, which raised more than $21 billion. It was one of the most successful auctions in history, but not nearly as big as the C-band auction, which raised more than $81 billion for U.S. coffers.

Rosenworcel said the 2.5 GHz auction represents the single largest swath of contiguous mid-band spectrum to be offered below 3 GHz, and these airwaves will help extend 5G service beyond the most populated areas.

T-Mobile already holds licenses in the 2.5 GHz band, and it’s seen as the primary bidder in the auction from a wireless carrier perspective. But wireless internet service providers (WISPs) also use the band and want to participate in the auction.

“Allocating more spectrum in that band will allow expanded broadband deployment, new competitive alternatives and greater adoption for rural and Tribal consumers,” said Louis Peraertz, VP of Policy for WISPA, in a statement. “The Commission can best seize this opportunity through an auction process that invites all players to the table, and we look forward to work with the Commission as they iron out those important details.”

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After the 2.5 GHz, the FCC’s sights are set on working with federal partners to open up the next tranche of mid-band spectrum in the 3.1-3.45 GHz band, Rosenworcel said.

Receiver inquiry on deck

In February, Rosenworcel and Alan Davidson , assistant secretary at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), announced a new Spectrum Coordination Initiative to create a more cohesive spectrum policy. That followed the C-band fiasco where the Department of Transportation (DoT) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) challenged the FCC’s decision to allocate the 3.7 GHz for 5G, which they said could potentially affect the safe use of altimeters in planes.

The C-band auction, which was later followed by pushback from aviation authorities and deployment delays, renewed calls for the FCC to regulate receivers, rather than just transmitters.

Rosenworcel, a Democrat, said in her speech Tuesday that receivers should be part of the FCC’s purview.

“I believe it is time to take the next step in innovative spectrum management. Next month I will propose to my colleagues at the FCC that we launch a new inquiry to explore receiver performance and standards,” she said. “This inquiry would ask how receiver improvements could provide greater opportunities for access to spectrum. It would explore how these specifications could come in the form of incentives, guidelines, or regulatory requirements—in specific frequency bands or across all bands.”

In addition, the inquiry would seek comment on legal authority and market-based mechanisms that could help “create a more transparent and predictable radiofrequency environment for all spectrum users—new and old,” she said. 

In her remarks, Rosenworcel thanked Commissioner Nathan Simington, a Republican, for his leadership on the issues and willingness to work on a path forward. 

In a statement, Simington said an approach that looks at both the receiver and transmitter ends of the equation is “the only framework truly capable of timely accommodating the interests of federal users of spectrum, and other incumbents. We see a lot of value in getting to a place where conflicts such as the C-Band altimeter fight are headed off at the pass.”

Such a model will provide all interested parties sufficient advanced warning about problematic band edges adjacent to any new commercial spectrum, he said, adding: “Clear rights regarding interference protection can provide incentives for innovation and collaboration among spectrum users in a way that avoids regulatory dictate.”