FCC Takes Steps to Open Spectrum for Internet of Things

By Lydia Beyoud

Oct. 22 — The regulatory infrastructure necessary to support the coming “Internet of Things” took another step forward Oct. 22 with Federal Communications Commission approval of proposed rules to open up four wireless frequencies above 24 gigahertz for flexible use.

The FCC is exploring the so-called spectrum frontier in order to free up enough spectrum to support fifth-generation (5G) wireless technology that is expected to underpin up to 50 billion Internet-connected devices and objects by 2020, according to estimates by Cisco Systems, Inc.

The FCC rulemaking proceeding will “play a critical role in the U.S. wireless industry's migration to 5G,” Scott Bergmann, vice president of regulatory affairs at CTIA-The Wireless Association, said in a statement. “The move to bring to market high band spectrum in bands above 24 GHz offers the potential for increased capacity and speeds, lower lag time and high density connections to unleash the Internet of Things.”

The FCC said it was building on years of successful spectrum policy to create a regulatory environment to spur technology innovation and investment.

“We propose rules that will enable flexibility in the uses and technologies to be deployed, and we do so in a way to promote coexistence,” said Charlie Oliver, attorney advisor in the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau.

The FCC is looking to spectrum-sharing models that have become popular in recent years for allowing public, private and government users to share licensed and unlicensed airwaves, in addition to plans to auction off some of the freed-up spectrum at a future date.

“We have learned that if our rules promote flexible, interoperable use of spectrum, we encourage entry by small businesses and expedite deployment of new wireless services to consumers,” Democratic commissioner Mignon Clyburn said.

Both of the Republican commissioners approved in part and dissented in part, saying the notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) could have included additional spectrum bands to explore for innovative uses, rather than the four included in the item.

Republican commissioner Ajit Pai said the four bands for consideration—the 28 GHz, 37 GHz, 39 GHz and 64-71 GHz—were insufficient to help the U.S. maintain its leadership in wireless technology and innovation.

“These particular bands are being pursued because they already have mobile allocations and, accordingly, it is expected to be easier to introduce mobile use in them,” Republican commissioner Michael O'Rielly said, adding that “these frequencies are likely just the tip of the iceberg of what is needed to make next generation services a reality.”

Pai advocated adding another 12,500 megahertz of spectrum of additional bands to the item, but said the “votes were not there” for the proposal.

“The Commission's decision to sit on literally thousands of megahertz of spectrum that could very well be used for licensed and unlicensed innovation is a lost opportunity,” Pai said.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, however, indicated that future items may consider wireless operations in other high-band frequencies.

Global Competition, Harmonization

Each of the agency's five commissioners underscored the importance of moving forward with the item in order to help the U.S. achieve a global lead in developing the next generation of mobile networks.

FCC representatives plan to present the proposals and call for international spectrum harmonization at the November World Radio Conference in Geneva.

“Continued U.S. leadership requires international coordination. We're walking into Geneva in a couple of weeks with what we're doing here today,” Wheeler said.

Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said the conference would be crucial for helping determine which bands are studied for fifth-generation (5G) wireless technology.

“The opportunities for international harmonization are real—and, with it, they bring the potential for scale economies that will lower the cost of equipment and deployment. This, in turn, will speed the availability of 5G services, both on our shores and worldwide,” she said.

Rosenworcel also called for the FCC to update its policies for small cells in the future.

“To win this race, we are going to need to incorporate these antennas into the designs of essential infrastructure through new building models, retrofitting practices and certification standards.”

The 28 GHz and 39 GHz bands could be particularly suitable for deploying high capacity, high throughput small cells for mobile broadband, Oliver said in his presentation of the NPRM.

Incentive Auction Items

The FCC earlier approved three incentive auction items that had been slated for the October meeting agenda. The commission adopted the channel-sharing second order on reconsideration, issued late Oct. 21. Two other items, one a report and order on when wireless licensees will be deemed to commence operations in the 600 MHz band post-auction, and another third report and order and first order on reconsideration adopting rules for interservice interference between broadcast and wireless licensees in the 600 MHz, will be issued in the coming days, an FCC official told Bloomberg BNA.

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 in Washington at kperine@bna.com

For More Information

Text of the FCC news release is at http://src.bna.com/HT.

Text of O'Rielly's statement is at http://src.bna.com/HU.

Text of Pai's statement is at http://src.bna.com/HV.

Text of Rosenworcel's statement is at http://src.bna.com/HX.