The FCC has auctioned the 24 and 28 GHz millimeter wave bands for commercial use and will hold the 37/39/47 GHz auction in December. A record amount of spectrum. Not to mention the auction of priority access licenses in the 3.5 GHz band, set for June of next year. But there was no time for the agency to rest on it laurels. The drum beat for more mid-band spectrum to be freed up for 5G was heard loud and clear in several sessions and FCC Commissioner keynotes at the Mobile World Congress, held this week in Los Angeles, known as MWC19.
During her keynote, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel opined that 16 countries have already auctioned mid-band spectrum for 5G, while the United States has focused bringing only high-band spectrum to market.
“And while we put all our early energies into these millimeter-wave auctions, the rest of the world has left us behind,” she said. “I fear our slow pace of bringing mid-band spectrum to market for 5G will only deepen the digital divide… because commercializing high-band spectrum will not be easy or cheap, given its propagation challenges.”
Scott Bergman, SVP, regulatory affairs, CTIA, who moderated the panel, “Wireless Policy from the Inside: The FCC and NTIA Advisors’ Views,” said the association’s analysis shows that bringing 400 megahertz of licensed mid-band spectrum to market would increase the GDP by more than $270 million and create 1.3 million new jobs.
3.1 GHz-3.55 GHz
During the wireless policy panel, Derek Khlopin, senior advisor, Office of the Assistant Secretary, National Telecommunications and Information Administration, agreed that high-band spectrum was low-hanging fruit, but the NTIA is supportive of efforts to free up mid-band spectrum. The Mobile Now Act requires the NTIA to look at the 3.1 GHz to 3.55 GHz.
“Our initial analysis showed that the 3.4 GHz to 3.55 GHz holds the most promise, because it has similar characteristics to the CBRS band.” Khlopin said. “We understand the pressure to look for more mid-band spectrum. A lot of federal agencies use spectrum. It’s very complicated. Mid-band spectrum is very challenging. It will take a collaborative effort and a lot of hard work.”
Commissioner O’Reilly was critical of the progress that the Department of Defense (DoD) has made so far in freeing up the 3.1 to 3.55 GHz band, saying that the process has been “painfully drawn out.”
“After signaling that they would relinquish the upper portion of the band from 3.45 to 3.55 GHz, the DoD, instead, did an unnecessary sharing feasibility study,” O’Reilly said. “This is spectrum that should have already been turned over for commercial use, and DoD should have been studying the lower 3.1 to 3.45 GHz, but that appears to have not even started yet.
O’Reilly argued that the top 100 megahertz should be reallocated immediately, and a study of the lower portion of the band should be done quickly, so the FCC can understand what protections will be needed.
2.5 GHz Band
Speaking before the CBRS Alliance’s OnGo Workshop, FCC Chairman Pai said the FCC plans to hold an auction in the 2.5 GHz band, following the 3.5 GHz band auction.
“With almost 200 megahertz [of spectrum], this is the largest contiguous band of terrestrial, flexible use spectrum below 3 GHz in the United States,” Pai said. “But it’s dramatically underused today—existing licenses cover only about one-half of the country, and the spectrum often vacant west of the Mississippi River.”
The commissioners’ offices have working hard freeing up mid-band spectrum in the 3.7-4.2 GHz band, commonly known as the C-Band, which is encumbered by satellite users. Aaron Goldberger, legal advisor to Chairman Pai, predicted that a C-Band item will be voted on by the Commission by the end of the year, and Erin McGrath, legal advisor to Commissioner O’Reilly, agreed.
“The good news is we are actually getting very close. We are at the point of tying it up in a nice package that we can move,” McGrath said. “We have made quite a bit of progress and we are now down to the final details, such as how much spectrum (300 megahertz seems to be the sweet spot), designating the assignment mechanism and the deciding on the plan for accommodating the existing users.”
Chairman Pai said the C-band involves a “complicated array of legal, policy, and factual issues,” and that he had not made his final decision it.
“First, we must make available a significant amount of spectrum for 5G. Second, we must make this spectrum available for 5G quickly. Third, we must generate revenue for the federal government. And fourth, we must ensure that the services currently using the C-band will continue to be delivered to the American people,” he said.
Meanwhile, on the other end of the continent, the eyes of Congress were also on the C-Band. A bill called the Clearing Broad Airwaves for New Deployment (C-BAND) Act (HR 4855), which would require a public C-band auction (as opposed to one run by the incumbent satellite carriers) was introduced this week by U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Communications and Technology Subcommittee, Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA), Subcommittee vice-chair, Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH), and Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT).
“I am pleased to introduce the bipartisan C-Band Act, which would require the FCC to promptly conduct a public auction to provide more much-needed mid-band spectrum,” Congressman Doyle said. “This bill would ensure a transparent and fair process that would generate billions of dollars in revenue to address the urgent needs of millions of Americans such as building out broadband internet service in rural America while protecting users of incumbent services.”