FCC Sets Rules for High-Frequency Spectrum for 5G (1)

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By Jon Reid

The Federal Communications Commission has moved to free up more high-frequency airwaves for mobile carriers gearing up to launch next-generation wireless networks.

The commission June 7 approved a plan setting rules on sharing and operating on the 24 gigahertz (GHz) spectrum band that it will auction to mobile carriers like Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T Inc. in November. The FCC also started a rule-making to make frequencies in the 26 GHz and 42 GHz bands available. A gigahertz is a unit of measurement for radio frequencies.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has prioritized freeing up spectrum for mobile carriers working on next-generation 5G networks. The agency’s order follows two other spectrum orders in 2016 and 2017, coming closer to carriers’ demands for spectrum in their race to become the first to launch a 5G network.

“Today we’re putting more spectrum on the table,” Pai said before the commission voted 4-0 to approve the plan.

The plan also eliminates caps on the amount of spectrum that mobile carriers can acquire at auctions for the 28 GHz, 37 GHz, and 39 GHz bands, a move backed by Verizon and AT&T. Companies’ spectrum holdings will now be subjected to post-auction FCC reviews on a case-by-case basis.

Groups representing rural and regional mobile carriers argue that the pre-auction limits were necessary to keep large carriers from becoming too dominant on those airwaves. But Verizon and AT&T said the limits were unnecessary, and could hamper the launch of 5G networks.

Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who dissented on that part of the spectrum plan, also opposed nixing the pre-auction limits. “We need to be more thoughtful about our auctions because while our supply of high-band spectrum is increasing, the list of potential bidders may be shrinking,” Rosenworcel said before the vote.

The wireless industry cheered the agency’s vote. Scott Bergmann, senior vice president for regulatory affairs for wireless industry trade group CTIA, said it would spur innovation.

“A pipeline of low, mid, and high band spectrum is essential to winning the global race to 5G and spurring new industries, such as the Internet of Things and autonomous vehicles,” Bergmann said in a statement.

The FCC’s plan includes a spectrum-sharing arrangement between the federal government and wireless carriers on the 37 GHz band.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jon Reid at jreid@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Roger Yu at ryu@bloomberglaw.com

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