FCC frees up 24 GHz+ spectrum for 5G amid dissent

US telecoms regulator the FCC has announced the availability of 11 GHz of high frequency spectrum has been made available for use by 5G.

Scott Bicheno

July 15, 2016

4 Min Read
FCC frees up 24 GHz+ spectrum for 5G amid dissent

US telecoms regulator the FCC has announced the availability of 11 GHz of high frequency spectrum has been made available for use by 5G.

Claiming the US is the first country in the world to make such a move, the FCC has freed up licensed spectrum in the 28 GHz (27.5-28.35 GHz), 37 GHz (37-38.6 GHz), and 39 GHz (38.6-40 GHz) bands, and established a new unlicensed band at 64-71 GHz.

“Fifth-generation, or 5G, connectivity will likely be more than an incremental evolutionary step forward in wireless technology,” said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. “It promises quantum leaps forward in three key areas: speeds resembling fibre that are at least 10 times and maybe 100-times faster than today’s 4G LTE networks; responsiveness less than one-thousandth of a second, which enables real-time communication; and network capacity multiples of what is available today.

“Today’s Order will make the United States the first country in the world to identify and open up vast amounts of high frequency spectrum for 5G applications. The big game-changer is that we are using much higher-frequency bands than previously thought viable for flexible uses, including mobile.

“The new high bands we are opening up will be woven with the existing mid and low bands into networks that will provide coverage and high capacity for consumers and businesses We aren’t going to say ‘this band is to be used for 3G, this band for 4G and this band is for 5G.’  Our strength is in providing the flexibility to use all of the spectrum resources in the way that provides the best services.

“And it’s not just licensed spectrum; unlicensed will continue to play a critical role in future networks, as will shared spectrum. Today’s Order will add to an existing unlicensed band to create a massive 14 gigahertz unlicensed band.  Consider that – 14,000 megahertz of unlicensed spectrum, with the same flexibility that has allowed unlicensed to become a breeding ground for innovation.

“It also provides 600 megahertz within the 37 GHz band for shared access between commercial users and federal users. This band can provide access to spectrum where and when it’s needed, and it will serve as a proving ground for policy and technical innovations to enable new forms of spectrum sharing between commercial and federal users.

FCC Commissioner O’Reilly, who is often the dissenting voice on the committee, once more had some reservations. “Going forward, I am unlikely to support any sharing mechanism that resembles the unproven 3.5 GHz experiment or the indoor “hybrid” approach that was proposed and rejected for the 37 GHz band,” he said.

“I also do not agree that any sharing paradigm with the federal government should be extended to the upper portion of the 37 GHz band, nor should the federal government obtain an allocation in the 42-42.5 GHz band.  In fact, the further notice states that the government has access to the 47.2-50.2 and 50.4-52.6 GHz bands, but is not using the spectrum. The federal government needs to decrease – not increase – its footprint.  This is why I have been outspoken about the need for spectrum fees for federal users as one solution.

“I must dissent, however, to the spectrum aggregation limits imposed in this order and the mobile spectrum holdings discussion in the further notice.  Generally, I oppose spectrum caps in favor of the free market but, in this case, it makes absolutely no sense to impose any limits.  We do not have a consensus definition of 5G, finalized standards, a full understanding of what services will be offered, or any idea of how much spectrum is needed to achieve the capacity, speed and latency goals for particular spectrum bands, but we adopt foolish policy anyway.

“Moreover, this makes the proposal, in the further notice, of a potential holding period precluding certain secondary market transactions utterly preposterous. Transferability restrictions are used when small businesses or other favored entities have access to spectrum set asides, not when licensees pay full price for spectrum at auction.

“Although improvements have been made since the item was originally circulated, I also cannot support the security section of this order requiring a high-level statement of every licensee’s security plans. While I fully support secure networks, wireless providers have every incentive to ensure the soundness of their networks.  A lack of security measures, or even worse a security breach, results in a loss of subscribers, which is not a successful business plan. Therefore, I don’t think that this reporting requirement is necessary or all that helpful.

“Once again, this is the Commission gathering data for the purposes of monitoring, but it is really a means for the Commission to interfere in the design and operations of networks and the starting point for future regulation.  I also cannot support the delegation of authority to the Public Safety Bureau to release an NOI seeking comment on the “security implications and solutions in future 5G networks.”

About the Author(s)

Scott Bicheno

As the Editorial Director of Telecoms.com, Scott oversees all editorial activity on the site and also manages the Telecoms.com Intelligence arm, which focuses on analysis and bespoke content.
Scott has been covering the mobile phone and broader technology industries for over ten years. Prior to Telecoms.com Scott was the primary smartphone specialist at industry analyst Strategy Analytics’. Before that Scott was a technology journalist, covering the PC and telecoms sectors from a business perspective.
Follow him @scottbicheno

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