The FCC today took a significant step at its open meeting toward holding a major 5G spectrum auction in 2019 by adopting new rules that will promote the availability of high-band millimeter wave spectrum for the next generation of wireless connectivity. The airwaves in the combined Upper 37 GHz and 39 GHz bands are the largest amount of contiguous spectrum available for wireless service in the millimeter wave bands—2,400 megahertz in total—while the 47 GHz band provides an additional 1,000 megahertz of spectrum. The Fourth Report and Order in the Spectrum Frontiers proceeding is another key step toward ensuring American leadership in 5G.
Specifically, the Fourth Report and Order:
- Modifies the band plans for the Upper 37 GHz, 39 GHz, and 47 GHz bands from 200 megahertz blocks to 100 megahertz blocks to be licensed by Partial Economic Area, which will facilitate the simultaneous auction of licenses in the three bands;
- Adopts an incentive auction mechanism that will offer contiguous blocks of spectrum throughout the Upper 37 GHz, 39 GHz, and 47 GHz bands, while preserving spectrum usage rights for existing licensees; and
- Adopts a pre-auction process that allows incumbent licensees to rationalize their holdings.
So why is there so much demand for millimeter wave spectrum?
According to FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, “It’s because brilliant engineers have done what they always do: invent, innovate, and make it work. In fact, one wireless provider already is using the 28 GHz band to offer service to families who feel for the first time that they have a choice in home broadband. When it announced plans to build out the service, the provider said it could get up to gigabit speeds delivered over a distance of maybe 1,500 feet or a few city blocks. The engineers continued testing, and they extended that range to 2,000 feet, through foliage, varied weather conditions, and even without a line of sight. Last week, the provider announced another break through: it can deliver peak speeds of two to four gigabits per second up to half a mile from its small cells, bouncing the signal off structures and through trees.” He said the 24 GHz band, “which is greenfield”, is almost wholly unencumbered spectrum.
The 2019 incentive auction will have two phases: a clock phase in which bidders may bid on generic license blocks, and an assignment phase in which clock phase winners may bid on specific frequencies. Incentive payments will be offered to incumbents who choose to relinquish their spectrum usage rights to make new licenses available.
New entrants and participating incumbents may bid for new licenses. Incumbents that bid for new licenses may use “vouchers” equivalent to their existing holdings for credit toward the amount they bid in the auction. For an incumbent that chooses not to relinquish all its existing rights, the Report and Order provides methods to modify the incumbent’s licenses so that they align with the band plan and service areas adopted by the Commission.
In a Statement, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said that making more spectrum available into the commercial marketplace was a key component of its plan to maintain American leadership in the next generation of wireless connectivity. “Currently, we’re conducting an auction of 28 GHz band spectrum, to be followed by a 24 GHz band auction. And today, we are taking a critical step towards holding an auction of the Upper 37, 39, and 47 GHz bands in 2019. These and other steps will help us stay ahead of the spectrum curve and allow wireless innovation to thrive on our shores,” he stated. View the FCC’s 5G FAST Plan.
Associations praise critical spectrum auction action
“NATE applauds the FCC’s continued proactive leadership in opening up more spectrum bands for industry’s use. This high frequency spectrum made available through future FCC auctions will be critical in helping 5G deployment scale. This is also great news for NATE’s members as more access to industry spectrum equates to more deployment opportunities for the Association’s contractor firms,” said National Association of Tower Erectors Executive Director Todd Schlekeway.
The Wireless Infrastructure Association’s President and CEO Jonathan Adelstein also praised the agency’s approval of the report and order.
“This action will help the U.S. continue to lead the world in wireless innovation. Two thousand and eighteen has been a banner year for the Commission in laying the foundation for next generation wireless services, and today’s open meeting is a continuation of this commitment to win the race to 5G,” said Adelstein.
CTIA Senior Vice President for Regulatory Affairs Scott Bergmann said, “We’re pleased to see the FCC continue to move forward on making more spectrum available to help the U.S. win the global 5G race.”