FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly touted the Citizens Broadband Radio Service and future use of three tiers of licenses: incumbent, priority access and general access. In a conversation with Jonathan Adelstein, president and CEO of the Wireless Infrastructure Association, viewable by an online audience, the commissioner spoke during this week’s Connectivity Expo.
In order to use the CBRS, which represents 150 megahertz of spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band, a network must use the FCC-specified Spectrum Access System (SAS) to dynamically manage CBRS spectrum use through an Environmental Sensing Capability (ESC) network to avoid interfering with incumbent Navy radar users.
“I am excited about where CBRS is going,” O’Rielly said. “We are still going to need clear spectrum bands, but it will provide a future platform for SAS and ESC in spectrum that is encumbered.”
O’Rielly spoke about the long and arduous process of reallocating spectrum. He said he worked with former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to begin the process of allocate high-band spectrum for 5G and then shifted his attention to the mid-band, which led to the upcoming auction of the CBRS spectrum and took several years to complete.
“How do we get more spectrum in the pipeline?” O’Rielly asked. “It is a heavy lift. I have pressed other federal agencies on the need to reallocate their spectrum holdings. There is no more greenfield spectrum. We have to be more efficient with what we have today, and the users that occupy certain bands may have to change to open up 100-megahertz blocks of spectrum for 5G and eventually 6G services. That causes heartburn.”
O’Rielly said he is working on freeing up spectrum in the 3.1 GHz-to-3.5 GHz range, which is just below the CBRS spectrum allocation.
“That is something that just has to be done,” he said. “At least, the top 100 megahertz of spectrum has to be cleared, and then we can work on the rest.”
Referring to another process that has taken a long time, O’Rielly expressed his belief that the regulatory uncertainty will soon be resolved surrounding “Twilight Towers,” which are towers built between 2001 and 2005 that did not go through the National Historic Preservation Act’s Section 106 review and cannot accept collocations. The issue affects about 4,300 towers, for which close to 6,500 antenna collocations have been prohibited.
“An estimated 10,000 to 15,000 collocations could be placed on these towers, expanding the reach of 4G and 5G technology, but they are stuck in this no-man’s land,” O’Rielly said. “That is a horrible place to be. The towers existing and are providing service but you can’t do anything with them.”
O’Rielly also spoke about the high level of unemployment that may lead to tower services companies finding opportunities to address the shortage in tower technicians. “That would be a silver lining to the current crisis,” he said. “We have to have the manpower to install new equipment on our towers.”
He said he appreciated the work the other commissioners have done on infrastructure and that he understands 5G is not just about small cells. He signaled he may support the macrocell item, “5G Update,” that commissioners will vote on in the June FCC meeting.
“We are still going to need macrotowers, and we still need an aggressive effort to deal with the fact that some localities — not all — are causing difficulties in placing equipment on towers,” O’Rielly said. “Many of the issues are based on aesthetics, cost or capabilities when it comes to processing a permit. That is not acceptable when we are trying to get the technology out to all Americans.”