Agency seeks to bolster US’ position in midband spectrum
The Federal Communications Commission has signaled its focus on pushing harder for midband spectrum in addition to the millimeter wave bands that it has been putting into play.
Last week, the FCC unanimously voted to propose the reallocation five megahertz of spectrum at 1675-1680 MHz for shared use between incumbent federal users and commercial wireless operations. That’s a small slice, but commissioners said that it is one step among many.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai called the proposed rulemaking at 1657-1680 MHz “just another example of our aggressive, ‘all of the above’ strategy to free up spectrum for commercial use” — but he specifically called out the commissions efforts around midband spectrum. In addition to the commission’s various auctions of millimeter wave spectrum this year, Pai said, “we’ve also been working to repurpose mid-band spectrum for 5G: from rulemakings to free up spectrum in the 2.5 GHz, 3.7 GHz, 4.9 GHz, and 6 GHz bands, to our upcoming auction in the 3.5 GHz band, to ongoing work with our federal partners to share the 3.1 GHz, 3.45 GHz, and 5.9 GHz bands, in the past two years we have put over 2,500 megahertz of prime, mid-band spectrum on the table for high-speed wireless broadband.”
However, most of that midband spectrum won’t be available for some time. The 3.5 GHz auction for Priority Access Licenses for the Citizens Broadband Radio Service, for instance, isn’t expected to happen until 2020 — although users will have access to the spectrum under General Authorized Access much sooner. FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel noted in her statement that the five megahertz covered by this NPRM would only be available “after the completion of a government study and an auction that is not scheduled.”
“The United States has a mid-band spectrum problem,” Rosenworcel said. “If we continue our current path prioritizing millimeter wave we may find ourselves without a global supply base as mid-band becomes the core of worldwide 5G service. … It’s time for the United States to flip its wireless priorities and pivot to mid-band spectrum” to avoid supply issues and higher costs due to midband spectrum playing a central role as 5G networks are being developed around the globe.
That means, she went on, “scheduling an auction of the 3.5 GHz band and developing auction rules. It means moving faster on a plan for the 3.7-4.2 GHz band. We should explore innovative opportunities for making more efficient use of the 2.5 GHz band. Plus, we need to press our federal partners to work collaboratively with us to open more mid-band spectrum for new commercial use. But above all, we need to recognize what we do here today with a discrete five megahertz of mid-band spectrum is not enough.”
“The 5 MHz before us is a small sliver of spectrum, to be sure,” FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr acknowledged in a statement. But if it’s combined with adjacent and nearby channels, we could have a 40 MHz block that offers high-throughput at great distance. Those are excellent characteristics for next-gen mobile broadband.”
Ligado Networks CEO Doug Smith issued a statement praising the FCC’s move and indicating his company’s readiness to support the use of the band for 5G.
“Reallocating this 5 MHz band to shared terrestrial use is an essential component of Ligado’s spectrum plan to make 40 MHz of lower mid-band frequencies available for 5G applications,” Smith said. “We are glad to see the first step of that plan taken by the FCC today, and we look forward to participating in the comment process so that the Commission can rapidly move to final rules. We are prepared to fully invest in this band as well as in our 35 MHz of licensed L-band spectrum to advance next-generation technologies and ensure industries across every part of the country benefit from the promise of 5G.” Ligado holds licenses in the L-band at 1500 MHz to 1700 MHz.