Growing businesses and job numbers, reducing vehicular traffic, preventing deaths from collisions, limiting pollution, and saving and improving lives with telemedicine all may flow from 5G wireless communications.
The FCC calls its strategy for promoting 5G wireless communications investment and innovation the 5G FAST plan — a blueprint to Facilitate America’s Superiority in 5G Technology. The plan includes three key solutions: freeing up spectrum, promoting wireless infrastructure and modernizing regulations.
On spectrum, the FCC has been extremely aggressive. We’re making more airwaves available for the commercial marketplace in the low, mid, and high bands. We’ve conducted the world’s first incentive auction in which spectrum once used by TV broadcasters was sold to wireless companies in order to expand bandwidth and coverage for consumers.
As for America’s first two high-band 5G spectrum auctions, the 28-GHz band auction was wet to begin on Nov. 14, and soon after it ends, the 24-GHz band auction will start. The 1.55 gigahertz of spectrum in these two high bands will be critical in deploying 5G wireless, the internet of things and other advanced spectrum-based services.
And we’re not stopping with these two auctions. In the second half of 2019, we intend to hold an auction of three more millimeter-wave spectrum bands: 37-GHz, 39-GHz, and 47-Hz. Between the auctions this year and next, we’ll push almost 5 gigahertz of spectrum into the commercial marketplace over the course of the next 15 months. To put that in perspective, that is more spectrum than is currently held by all mobile broadband providers combined.
The FCC’s 3.5-GHz proposal reflects the commission’s aim of freeing up mid-band spectrum for 5G and other flexible uses. This order makes targeted changes to our rules to promote investment and innovation in this important band. For example, by allowing providers to renew 3.5-GHz licenses, we’ll substantially increase their incentives to develop 5G services using this spectrum.
It’s also important to note that our spectrum policy embraces both licensed and unlicensed spectrum. Last year, the FCC started to explore how to expand unlicensed use in the 6-GHz band. Based on our study, I’ve proposed new rules allowing unlicensed devices to use this band. My proposal would promote efficient use of spectrum that may otherwise not be used at all — and it could make over 1 gigahertz of new unlicensed spectrum available.
Here’s why this matters: This massive amount of spectrum could enable faster Wi-Fi connections, which benefits everyone with a smartphone or other mobile device. And it would substantially expand the reach of internet access providers that use unlicensed spectrum, like small, competitive fixed wireless companies. It would also supplement mobile broadband companies’ licensed holdings for 5G, helping them offload traffic and ease congestion. We hope to do all this while fully protecting existing and future licensed operations from harmful interference.
Rounding out the spectrum piece of our 5G FAST plan, I would note that we’re working hard with other federal agencies to free up spectrum currently held by the federal government, which for some time has held a majority of lower-band airwaves.
Infrastructure is the second major component of our 5G FAST plan. We cannot let today’s red tape strangle the 5G future.
Completing the three-legged stool of our 5G FAST plan is modernizing regulations. The FCC is revising or repealing outdated rules to promote investment in the wired backbone of 5G networks. For instance, at the time I became chairman, FCC regulations made it too hard for carriers to transition from the fading copper networks of the past to the fiber networks of tomorrow. So we’ve updated those rules to help companies focus on fiber deployment. We also recognize that carrying 5G traffic to and from small cells will require companies to string fiber lines on utility poles. We’re making it cheaper and easier to do this by enacting a bold policy called one-touch make ready.
Speaking of replacing outdated regulations, we also overturned the Obama administration’s decision to heavily regulate the internet like a slow-moving utility under rules developed in the 1930s. We’ve replaced it with a consistent national policy for broadband providers that protects the free and open Internet and encourages infrastructure investment.
The possible use cases and applications of 5G are relevant and remind us why all of this matters.
It matters because of the businesses that will be able to grow and the new jobs that will create.
It matters because it can unleash smart transportation networks that can reduce traffic, prevent deadly accidents, and limit pollution.
It matters because of the lives that can be saved and the many more that can be improved with telemedicine.
It matters because of the yet-to-be imagined innovations that will enrich our lives.
That’s why we aim to build consensus around smart spectrum management practices for the future. Because this isn’t just about policy; it’s about unlocking possibilities for a better future.
Ajit Pai is chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. Edited for length and style and to focus on 5G wireless communications, this article is derived from remarks Pai made at the 7th Annual America’s Spectrum Management Conference held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 3. Pai’s unabridged remarks are available on the FCC website.
This article originally ran in the Horizons section of the December, 2018, issue of AGL Magazine.