FCC Opens Spectrum for Faster Wireless, Internet of Things

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By Lydia Beyoud

July 14 — Wireless carriers and other technology innovators will have access to high-frequency radio airwaves under rules, approved July 14 by the Federal Communications Commission, that lay the groundwork for wireless technology's next evolution in support of the growing internet of things.

The commission's 5-0 vote is a boon to U.S. wireless carriers such as Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T Inc., as well as to wireless industry supply chain companies such as Qualcomm Inc. and equipment manufacturers such as Siklu Communication Ltd.

“I do believe that this is one of the— if not the—most important decisions this agency will make this year,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said at the commission's meeting. “By becoming the first nation to identify high band spectrum, the United States is ushering in the 5G era of high capacity, high speed, low latency wireless networks.”

The rules will make nearly 11 gigahertz (GHz) of spectrum above 24 GHz, known as millimeter wave spectrum, available for flexible use, to be shared by licensed and unlicensed wireless users, satellite operators and the government. The commission approved a related item to get input on opening up additional spectrum bands in the future.

Though it's difficult to define all that the next generation of wireless technology under 5G will entail, the wireless industry is working toward making new services a reality.

“5G is like a whole paradigm shift,” Dean Brenner, senior vice president of government affairs for Qualcomm, told Bloomberg BNA. “It's like an elevator going from the fifth floor to the thirty-fifth floor with 5G.” Uses being contemplated include networking industrial machinery in an “industrial internet,” robotics, drones, medical devices “or just plain old better mobile broadband,” Brenner said.

Verizon Wireless Inc. announced July 11 its completion of technical specifications for its 5G service to be used for further testing. That kind of investment will drive the wireless industry toward commercial deployment, Peter Pitsch, executive director of federal relations and associate general counsel for Intel Corp., said during a Technology Industry Association (TIA) July 14 webinar.

“Carriers are going to have the incentive to invest in networks” and move quickly to develop the standards needed for 5G services, Pitsch said.

AT&T said the FCC's rules reflected regulatory compromises designed to permit new 5G services while also protecting incumbent satellite services.

“We believe that the FCC’s actions today will provide the clarity needed to move forward with confidence with 5G trials and development, ensuring continued U.S. leadership in wireless innovation and services,” Joan Marsh, AT&T vice president of federal regulatory affairs, said in a statement.

Others criticized the FCC's rules.

“The FCC’s order is extremely shortsighted. Because the big carriers will use these bands only in city centers and high-traffic indoor venues, exclusive and indefinite licenses over large geographic areas is a recipe for leaving these millimeter bands vacant in more than 95 percent of the country and millions of venues,” Michael Calabrese, executive director of the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute, told Bloomberg BNA via e-mail.

Democratic Commissioner Mignon Clyburn called for the FCC to keep rural communities in mind in its regulatory work on 5G.

“We must be sure that we are not just giving those who already have the most even more, while doubling down and widening the digital divide for those with none or not enough, because of a lack of forethought when setting the standards and business cases for 5G,” Clyburn said. “We need to be as creative, flexible and forward thinking on the community and opportunities inclusion fronts, as we are on the technological innovations front.”

Spectrum Sharing

Republican Commissioner Michael O'Rielly said he would continue to push the FCC to open up additional bands to wireless uses, and would encourage the agency to explore whether high-frequency spectrum can be globally harmonized. International spectrum harmonization can help wireless carriers and their suppliers achieve economies of scale.

O'Rielly said he was unlikely to support spectrum-sharing regimes resembling what the FCC put in place for the 3.5 GHz spectrum band, which provides for a three-tiered sharing structure between government users, licensed operators and unlicensed users.

“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,” O'Rielly said.

Wireless Siting Policies

The top Republican and Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent a joint letter to the FCC July 14, asking the agency to make it easier to deploy 5G equipment.

“For 5G to be a success, the FCC must also take concrete steps toward more common-sense siting policies,” Reps. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.) said. The lawmakers said the FCC should finish a proceeding to eliminate “unnecessary review processes for collocating small wireless antennas.”

Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said the FCC should help speed along deployments of small cell antennas that could be used with 5G technologies by promoting initiatives with local governments.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lydia Beyoud in Washington at lbeyoud@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine at kperine@bna.com

For More Information

Text of the bipartisan letter is at http://src.bna.com/gNo.

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