September 8, 2016 —
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler suggested that if the wireless industry was going to reach the astronomical levels of antenna deployment required by 5G, it might have to share infrastructure and spectrum in his address to the CTIA Super Mobility Show 2016, yesterday in Las Vegas.
“To be clear, I’m not endorsing shared infrastructure in every and all circumstances, and certainly not opening a door to consolidation,” Wheeler said. “But I am saying that if we’re talking about thousands of antennas in a city, and you’ve got four carriers, and we are serious about leading the world in 5G deployment in our very large and spread-out country, we ought to explore creative options on how best to build that infrastructure.”
The practice, which is common in the U.K., is not as foreign to U.S. carriers as one might think. He gave an example of when Cingular and T-Mobile agreed to share each other’s spectrum and infrastructure in three states back in 2001. The successful joint venture was dissolved when Cingular purchased AT&T Wireless.
The FCC has done a lot to facilitate the deployment of ultra-high-speed, high-capacity, low-latency, secure mobile connectivity, but it needs to do more, Wheeler said.
“There are three keys for what the Commission can do to help unlock the 5G opportunity: ensuring ample availability of spectrum to a range of competitors; taking all steps to foster competitive provision of infrastructure; and removing unnecessary hurdles to siting. In all these areas, the FCC has activities underway. Yet, let’s be realistic, there is more to be done if 5G is to realize its promise,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler announced that the FCC would soon be launching an electronic filing system to accept applications for program experimental licenses to facilitate experimentation and innovation.
“Experimental licensing has led to countless wireless innovations through the generations of wireless technologies,” Wheeler said. “The new program licenses will provide much greater flexibility for researchers, universities, OEMs, and other innovators to conduct experiments and field tests of 5G technologies at scale.”
Because competition in backhaul is limited in many areas, and prices can be artificially high, the FCC will consider regulating them in a proceeding scheduled for December. “There must be fair backhaul prices and availability if we are to connect all these small cells,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler said the sheer number of cell sites expected in 5G, possibly in the hundreds of thousands, is going to require an unprecedented educational effort of local leaders.
“How can we work with siting authorities to allow the plethora of antennas that will be required quickly and at a reasonable cost?” asked Wheeler. “Let’s talk about the benefits of smart-city energy grids, safer transportation networks, and new opportunities to improve health care. Let’s paint the picture of how 5G will unleash immersive education and entertainment industries, and how 5G will unlock new ways for local employers to grow.”