Several mid-band spectrum ranges have been identified for reallocation to 5G use, but actual allocation and assignment is lagging.
The first new mid-band spectrum capable of supporting 5G services is the 3.5 GHz band, which can produce up to 70 MHz of priority access spectrum, the most useful for commercial carriers. Now that the FCC has modified the Consumer Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) licensing rules to make the spectrum more useful for commercial carriers, such as increasing the license’s geographic sizes and term lengths, at least some of the 3.5 GHz band can be placed in the 5G column. Commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Jessica Rosenworcel rightfully have urged that the 3.5 GHz auction be scheduled soon.
Last year, the FCC proposed to reallocate up to 500 MHz of the 3.7-4.2 GHz band, the C-Band used by satellite providers beaming video to cable TV and broadcasters, and to a declining number of fixed point-to-point services. The C-Band Alliance has proposed to conduct what it calls "secondary market transactions" to reallocate 200 MHz of the spectrum and move existing satellite providers to a smaller portion of the band. The C-Band Alliance proposal holds some promise for freeing up spectrum in a relatively brief period of time, and this is a positive. But opponents of the plan have suggested there are some problems with the proposal that should be addressed, such as the fairness of the process, a potential loss of revenues for U.S. taxpayers, and the adequacy of protection in the “repacking” process.
A greater allocation of the amount of spectrum, such as 300 MHz, could improve the likelihood that U.S. taxpayers might recover some revenues. Ultimately, it likely is not as important
approach is used to free up this mid-band spectrum for mobile use as
a plan is finalized for implementation. And, ultimately, it is not as important
label is attached to the plan, or how the elements of the plan are characterized, as
a plan can be adopted that is legally sound and practical from a policy perspective. It may well be that a reallocation plan ultimately will incorporate, in some fashion, elements of what are considered "secondary markets" and "incentive auction" approaches.
On May 9, the FCC adopted a notice proposing to reallocate the 1675-80 MHz band for shared use between private terrestrial wireless broadband users and federal operations, subject to protection of current users. The band is currently allocated to both federal and non-federal users of radiosonde and meteorological space-to-earth services. The FCC's May 9 action is a positive step in making more mid-band spectrum available for 5G applications. Indeed, in a statement issued regarding the Commission's notice, Commissioner Brendan Carr said this referencing adjacent L-band spectrum:
“The 5 MHz before us is a small sliver of spectrum, to be sure. 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.”
In March 2018, the FCC proposed
to open up 50 MHz of the 4.9 GHz band for shared use with public safety entities. The band is lightly used by currently eligible entities and it cries out for more efficient use. The Commission should bring this proceeding to a close.
Finally, because unlicensed devices will be complementary to 5G services, the FCC should act in these unlicensed proceedings as well. One proceeding that has been pending for six years proposes to reallocate for shared use 75 MHz in the 5.9 GHz band currently dedicated exclusively to transportation use. In the 20 years since allocation, the automotive industry has failed to develop services in the band. Commissioners O’Rielly and Rosenworcel have both urged that an NPRM be issued promptly regarding such reallocation. [As this
was going to press, in a welcome development, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced the commencement of a rulemaking to consider usage in the 5.9 GHz band.]
In addition, the FCC last year proposed to reallocate for shared use 6.9 GHz spectrum for unlicensed use, currently allocated to fixed satellite services, fixed services, broadcast auxiliary and cable TV relay services. The FCC should move quickly to bring these proceedings to a close so that important unlicensed uses can proceed in these bands.
Mid-band spectrum needs to be the next focused target of 5G spectrum allocations. Getting to "yes" on producing enough mid-band spectrum will enable the U.S. to achieve its goal of being the world leader in 5G innovation and deployment. This will ultimately redound to the benefit of the American economy and consumer. U.S. leadership will achieve the secure private-sector-driven 5G network that consumers and the world desire.
* Gregory J. Vogt is a Visiting Fellow of the Free State Foundation, an independent, nonpartisan free market-oriented think tank located in Rockville, Maryland.
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