AGL Magazine May Issue — If we want our wireless future to be bold, we need to do more than rest on our 4G laurels. 5G service is poised to bring higher speed, lower latency services and a new world of wireless everything. Get ready for the Internet of Things. Get ready for a potent mix of licensed and unlicensed uses. Get ready for gigabit service. And get ready because the effort to develop this next generation of wireless technology is already underway.
The race to 5G is on. I can see this very clearly from where I sit at the Federal Ccommunications Commission. The world’s wireless economies are busy planning for 5G service. South Korea and Japan have plans to deploy 5G services by the time they hold the Olympics in 2018 and 2020, respectively. The European Commission committed to support 5G research with South Korea and last year signed up for the same with Japan. It also has reached an agreement with China, where three of the nation’s ministries have jointly established a group to promote the development of 5G technologies.
So it’s time for us to get out of the starting gate. This is a race we want to win. We can do this if we get creative — and get going.
Today, the bulk of our 4G wireless networks are built on spectrum frequencies from 600 MHz to 3 GHz. This is our current sweet spot for mobile communications.
But the 5G future will look different — very different. We will need to bust through this old 3-GHz ceiling and create new possibilities for millimeter-wave spectrum — in the airwaves at 24 GHz and above. This is spectrum that is way, way up there. These are the airwaves that take us to infinity and beyond.
But with stratospheric frequencies there are propagation challenges. Although these super-high signals carry a significant amount of data, they do not go far. But we can turn this limitation into a strength by combining these frequencies with small cells packed close together, densifying our networks at a lower cost. All of this, in turn, can mean service that reaches further into buildings at faster speeds than ever before. This is especially useful in urban corridors and fast-growing areas with the greatest traffic demands.
It won’t be simple to put these bands to use. But the FCC has already taken an important first step with a rulemaking late last year proposing action in the 28-GHz, 37-GHz, 39-GHz and 64-to-71-GHz bands. Plus we have committed to seek comment on more millimeter-wave bands in the future.
It would be best if we can harmonize these efforts globally, which will enhance economies of scale. But there are some places where, when we look high, I believe the United States will need to go it alone. This includes the 28-GHz band. Unfortunately, at the World Radio Conference in Geneva last year, this band was left off the table. It was not included in the study list for 5G spectrum. But because this band has a global mobile allocation, I think the United States should continue to explore this spectrum frontier. Tests in this band are already underway in South Korea and Japan. So I don’t think this is the time to hold back. I think we need to move ahead — on our own — and have a framework in place for the 28-GHz band by the end of the year.
When we look high for new spectrum, we cannot forget that we also need to look low.
This idea is not complicated — or especially new. But we have to remember that while we explore the big possibilities of millimeter waves, we need to continue to look for opportunities below 3 GHz. This spectrum is essential for coverage today. It will continue to be essential for coverage in the 5G future. 5G networks will incorporate multiple radio access technologies, and for seamless connectivity we will need more than millimeter waves.
Focus on the Ground
To build a bigger wireless future, we need to focus as much on the ground as on the skies.
In wireless policy, spectrum gets all the glory. But the unsung hero of the wireless revolution is infrastructure because no amount of spectrum will lead to better wireless service without good infrastructure. So if we want a big and bold future for our airwaves, we need policies that support our efforts on the ground.
We can begin by taking a comprehensive look at tower siting practices and make them more consistent across the country. We can start with federal lands, which make up as much as a third of our national real estate. We can expedite deployment here by creating an open data inventory of infrastructure.
But we need to think beyond traditional tower siting. 5G use of millimeter-wave spectrum puts a new premium on small cells. Figuring out how to get these microcells in place is a significant effort. For outdoor deployments, we need to find ways to harmonize municipal practices from coast to coast, and we should work to develop model practices. But we also need to focus on the in-building equation. I think it’s time for the wireless equivalent of LEED certification for facilities that are capable of 5G service. The market should reward buildings that have dense networks of small cells and fiber backhaul for gigabit service, but we need a standardized way to certify that capability to help it develop.
Jessica Rosenworcel is an FCC commissioner. This article is an excerpt from her remarks at the Feb. 9 Leadership Forum on 5G: The Next Generation of Wireless. The unabridged speech is on the FCC’s website.