Should LTE provide 5 Mbps speeds, 10 Mbps or something else? FCC to investigate

high speed bullet train concept
Broadband speeds continue to remain a key element in the telecommunications landscape. (Melpomenem/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images)

The FCC is opening a new proceeding to investigate the state of telecommunications in America, and as part of that effort the agency will seek comment on how mobile networks should perform across the country. Specifically, the FCC will investigate whether wireless carriers should provide 5 Mbps downloads/1 Mbps uploads, 10 Mbps downloads/3 Mbps uploads, or some other speed. The goal, the agency said, is to determine “whether advanced telecommunications capability is being deployed,” as required by the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

The FCC conducted a similar proceeding last year, and it released a report based on that proceeding earlier this year. The agency’s “2018 Broadband Deployment Report,” released in February, concluded that broadband deployment was proceeding at a “reasonable and timely” manner, at least based on the parameters laid out for that report. This year’s proceeding will determine the parameters for next year’s report.

“The 2018 Report found that, in the mobile environment, adoption of a single speed benchmark was unworkable given the inherent variability of the mobile experience, combined with data limitations and methodological issues,” the FCC wrote in its latest proceeding. “The Commission presented, as a starting point, LTE coverage data based on the Form 477 [in which data is supplied by service providers themselves] is minimum advertised speeds of 5 Mbps/1 Mbps. The 2018 Report noted, however, that 5 Mbps/1 Mbps was not a mobile advanced telecommunications capability benchmark. Because these Form 477 data can only provide an understanding of the minimum speeds that consumers can expect to receive, the Commission supplemented the analysis with Ookla’s actual speed test data at a median speed of 10 Mbps/3 Mbps or higher. The Commission found that the Form 477 data, when supplemented with Ookla data, showed that in those geographical areas where most consumers live, speeds appear to be well above 5 Mbps/1 Mbps, with a median of 10 Mbps/3 Mbps or higher. The 2018 Report further recognized that more consumers are receiving these higher speeds and minimum speeds will likely increase over time as network configurations, technology, and consumer demands evolve. We seek comment on whether to take a similar approach when evaluating mobile speed data in the next report.”

The FCC will also solicit comment on whether mobile networks can be considered a suitable alternative to wired networks; in its 2018 report, the commission determined that they were not a suitable alternative. The agency will also review comments on how fixed wireless networks should be treated. In addition, it will look at whether it should keep the 25 Mbps/3 Mbps requirement for fixed networks; Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said that the agency should raise that bar for wired networks to 100 Mbps downloads.