FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, standing at the White House with U.S. President Donald J. Trump and surrounded by several representatives of interest groups outfitted with hard hats and tower-climbing gear, said April 12 that the agency was stepping up its commitment to the expansion of 5G communications. Pai said that the new initiative, the 5G Fast Plan, would free up spectrum, speed up the review process and fix outdated regulations.
Central to this effort is a new spectrum auction that would allocate 3400 megahertz of spectrum in 3-millimeter wave bands. Those bands are the upper portion of 37 GHz, 39 GHz and 47 GHz. The order establishing the incentive auction also allocates 100 MHz sections of each band in an overall band plan for spectrum use above 24 GHz. These 100 MHz chunks of spectrum provide significant bandwidth for the high-speed and low-latency services envisioned by the FCC and the wireless industry.
Most of this spectrum is currently unoccupied or is held in the FCC’s inventory and has not been assigned. There are a few users in the 39 GHz band, and they are being offered buyouts or frequency relocations. What this means is that once this spectrum space is auctioned and allocated, that use can begin immediately. There will be few waits for existing occupants to relocate, as was the case when former television broadcast bands were auctioned.
[For a larger view of the image at top left, right-click on it and select "View Image." See the link at the end of this article for additional information on the 5G spectrum from Ericsson.]
Space in the 50 GHz Band for Satellite Communications
The auction is expected to start in December 2019, following a public comment period regarding auction procedures. Two other actions took place during the FCC meeting in which the order was adopted; one was to provide space in the 50 GHz band for satellite communications specifically aimed at high-bandwidth internet satellites that are already in the process of being launched. The other was a major initiative to push rural broadband communications closer to reality.
Pai outlined how the FCC is proceeding in his White House remarks. “First, we’re freeing up spectrum,” he explained. “We finished our first 5G spectrum auction in January, and we’re holding a second right now that’s already generated almost $2 billion in bids.”
“Second, we’re making it easier to install wireless infrastructure,” Pai said, explaining that the old rules for cell towers don’t really apply to the antennas for 5G, which he said would be the size of a pizza box.
“Third, we’ve taken action to encourage the deployment of optical fiber. That’s because 5G isn’t just about wireless.” Pai said that a significant growth in fiber backhaul will be necessary for 5G to work. “Last year, fiber was deployed to more new locations than in any year before.”
Pai also said that the FCC is creating a $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund which will extend high-speed internet access in rural areas and also provide connectivity with 5G wireless in those areas.
Bipartisan Support: What a Rarity
What’s notable in the adoption of the 5G rulemaking is that it had bipartisan support. While the two Democratic appointees did express reservations about some aspects of the 5G plan, in general they supported it. For example, Commissioner Geoffrey Starks said: “I believe the appropriate course would have been to delay final action until we had sought and reviewed public comment on the process adopted in this item.”
The fact that the approval of the rule making was bipartisan is important because it means it’s less likely to be undone if the administration changes in two years following the next presidential election. Such flipflops in policy created chaos with various net neutrality actions, some of which are ongoing. Considering the significant investments that wireless companies would need to make, not to mention the millions of devices that would be in the hands of users, uncertainty is the last thing the industry needs.
The FCC’s moves are already drawing support from industry sources, such as the Telecommunications Industry Association. “Today's announcement that the FCC will start the largest spectrum auction in history this December will advance U.S. leadership in the global race to 5G,” said Cinnamon Rogers, TIA’s vice president for government affairs. “Spectrum is the lifeblood of the wireless economy,” she said.
These vast spectrum resources could also be the lifeblood of the next stage in enterprise communications. Ubiquitous 5G from terrestrial sources and from internet satellites will allow a level of connectivity unlike anything you’ve experienced. They will fundamentally transform the way your organization communicates.
Author Arthur C. Clarke Foresaw It All
The announcement, along with the actions by the FCC in the United States and regulators elsewhere that will bring us communications using 5G wireless and high-speed satellite connections, has brought us to the precipice of a world predicted by the legendary science fiction author and futurist, Arthur C. Clarke.
During a series of conversations I had with Clarke while I was working with him on a project for The Washington Post, he related his belief that before long, each of us would have a sort of communications console that would provide instant access to news, messaging and video. He thought that such a device would fit into one’s hand and allow us to work from wherever we might be.
Now, as I write this, with my smartphone on the desk beside my keyboard, I realize how close we are to Clarke’s vision. With 5G, when it becomes widespread, your work and your enterprise will no longer be defined by a place, but rather by your presence. 5G has the potential to do more than transform your organization; it may transform your life.
Go here for an overview from Ericsson on the 5G spectrum.