FCC Learns Opening Up More High-Band Spectrum Is Complicated


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By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

The FCC took several steps to open up more spectrum for 5G and other advanced wireless services at its June meeting yesterday – something carriers and their infrastructure suppliers keenly want. Several items (a Third Report and Order, Memorandum Opinion and Order, and Third Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking) continue efforts to make available millimeter wave spectrum, in bands at or above 24 GHz. Commissioners also voted to finalize rules for portions of the bands and seek comment on making additional spectrum available in the 26 GHz and 42 GHz bands for flexible terrestrial wireless use, sharing mechanisms in the lower 37 GHz band, and earth station siting criteria for the 50 GHz band.

CTIA praised the action, noting afterwards: “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.”

FCC Commissioner O’Rielly said by resolving, “outstanding issues” surrounding 24 GHz, the agency has cleared the final policy hurdles in front of conducting an auction starting in November. He hopes to set a specific timeline soon for other auctions, including auctions for 37 GHz and 39 GHz licenses.

Noting that some sections of the item concern him, O’Rielly said they agency should have reconsidered a decision to adopt non-exclusive sharing in the lower 37 GHz band. “A preferable framework would have involved exclusive licensees sharing spectrum with federal incumbents,” he noted. But, realizing other federal agencies may have influenced the decision, he ultimately supported it.

O’Rielly is concerned about text in the Further Notice suggesting federal operations could expand in the upper 37 GHz. “The federal government needs to reduce its spectrum footprint, not expand it,” he said.

He supports not imposing a pre-auction spectrum cap, but is troubled by the notion of a post-auction spectrum aggregation review, saying they’re not needed. “There’s no evidence carriers are warehousing spectrum,” O’Rielly, who added the agency can “finally debunk this issue.”

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel disagreed, dissenting with the majority’s decision to lift any pre-auction limits and replace them with a case-by-case review. “It’s important we take steps now to avoid undue carrier aggregation of spectrum in these markets. Congress charged us to avoid undue concentration of licenses.”

She also pushed to schedule more spectrum auctions, noting the agency is “timidly” moving to auction millimeter wave bands one-by-one, instead of all together. “There is no auction calendar. This is a confusing message to send to the market. And while our auction bands may be increasing, the list of potential bidders may be shrinking,” she said.

Published June 8, 2018

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