FCC commissioner calls for multiple spectrum auctions in coming years

FCC commissioner Brendan Carr has outlined a vision for the 5G industry in the US over the coming years that includes sizeable number of new spectrum auctions.

Mary Lennighan

March 16, 2021

3 Min Read
Abstract spectrum background

FCC commissioner Brendan Carr has outlined a vision for the 5G industry in the US over the coming years that includes sizeable number of new spectrum auctions.

In a speech delivered to the American Enterprise Institute – which was essentially a thinly-disguised dig at the progress made by the pre-2017 Democrat-led commission and a nod to the US’s perceived prowess in 5G, particularly when compared with China – Carr proposed a spectrum calendar designed to expedite the award of frequencies across various brands this year and further ahead.

The Republican commissioner is clearly keen to be seen to be driving the agenda on spectrum in what will be a Democrat-dominated FCC once new president Joe Biden appoints a fifth commissioner to fill the currently vacant slot. And to talk up the developments made in the Republican-led Trump-era FCC, of course.

“With all the work we’ve being doing over the past four years, we now have a lot of spectrum in the pipeline. The key is to make sure we get those airwaves out into the commercial marketplace as quickly as possible,” he said, according to a transcript of the speech published by the FCC.

First up, he called for auctions 108 and 110 to take place this year, covering the award of spectrum in the 2.5 GHz and 3.45 GHz bands respectively. That comes as no surprise, since much of the preparation work is done and both are unofficially slated to take place in 2021.

The FCC has 100 MHz of spectrum in the 3.45 GHz band to offload and is due to vote on proposals for the auction procedure later this week. There is also more than 100 MHz of 2.5-GHz spectrum available.

“This is prime, mid-band spectrum that needs to get to market ASAP. And we’ve already put the legwork in to get this across the finish line later this year by releasing the comment Public Notice in January,” Carr said.

He is also pushing for the adoption of an order to permit very low power (VLP) devices to operate in the 6 GHz band, which he believes is key to driving consumer demand for 5G as it will help power AR/VR and similar applications. And he is championing an increase in power levels for CBRS operations in the 3.5 GHz band to align the US with other markets and create efficiencies for mid-band 5G builds. “Getting this done will help extend the reach of 5G services to even more Americans,” Carr said.

His final 2021 goals include creating more opportunities for unlicensed use of the U-NII-2C band (5470 MHz-5725 MHz), and the reauthorisation of the FCC’s spectrum auction authority. “We can and should get all of that done in 2021,” Carr said.

Top of his list for 2022 are auctions for the 50 MHz of spectrum between 1300-1350 MHz and millimetre wave (mmWave) frequencies; he identified the 42 GHz band as a prime candidate for the latter. And post-2022 he’s looking at lower 3 GHz, 4.8 GHz, 7.125 GHz-8.4 GHz, and above 95 GHz.

That’s a lot of potential auction action.

“The good news is that we have plenty in the spectrum pipeline. It’s on us at the FCC to make sure we stick to this schedule and get it into the market,” Carr said.

Telcos will always need spectrum, but right now many are probably feeling light-headed and light-of-wallet following the recently-concluded C-band sale. Carr described auction 107 as “the Big Kahuna…where we cleared 280 MHz of sought-after mid-band spectrum.” He elected not to mention that the sale raised $81 billion, excluding clearing costs and so on, although few of us needed reminding.

But Carr’s goals on spectrum are only partly about giving the wireless industry a boost and having a dig at China. This speech is more about punting a political football at the Democrats than anything else.

About the Author(s)

Mary Lennighan

Mary has been following developments in the telecoms industry for more than 20 years. She is currently a freelance journalist, having stepped down as editor of Total Telecom in late 2017; her career history also includes three years at CIT Publications (now part of Telegeography) and a stint at Reuters. Mary's key area of focus is on the business of telecoms, looking at operator strategy and financial performance, as well as regulatory developments, spectrum allocation and the like. She holds a Bachelor's degree in modern languages and an MA in Italian language and literature.

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