FCC Moves to Free Up 100 MHz of 3.45-3.55 GHZ for 5G

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The FCC Wednesday proposed to make 100 megahertz of mid-band spectrum in the 3.45-3.55 GHz band available for 5G deployment. The agency adopted rules to remove the secondary, non-federal allocations from the 3.3-3.55 GHz band. 

The move follows last month’s announcement by the White House and Department of Defense that 100 megahertz of contiguous mid-band spectrum would be made available in the 3450-3550 MHz band for 5G commercial use while simultaneously minimizing impact to DoD operations.    

During the vote, Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said since beginning the FCC job nearly seven years ago, repurposing 3.1 to 3.55 GHz from federal government to private sector use has been one of his priorities. “While clearing the band of and relocating some current non-federal users, such as radiolocation and amateur services, is important and worthwhile, the more consequential effort is to implement the agreement reached between the White House and the Department of Defense (DOD) on this key spectrum band.”  

O’Rielly knew it was going to be “very difficult” to get DoD to surrender the spectrum, which is why he wrote to President Trump in April, “imploring him to provide assistance in repurposing at least 100 megahertz for commercial use. Some laughed and others even ridiculed my letter, but I have to say, I’m fairly pleased with the result.”

O’Rielly did note that DoD has not released its transition plan yet, but said there’s enough information in the record to initiate this rulemaking process.

The vote was 5-0. Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said the change will help the U.S. boost its mid-band spectrum for 5G, which remains behind other countries in terms of availability. She also pointed out there is still no government-wide plan to do that.

“The White House and the Department of Defense have teamed up to develop what is being called America’s Mid-Band Initiative Team, or AMBIT,” explained Rosenworcel during the vote. “The initiative helped clear the way for the FCC’s work in the 3.45-3.55 GHz band” Wednesday; however then DoD started its own proceeding after the Commission offered its proposal, according to Rosenworcel. 

“It issued a request for information regarding the construction of a 5G communications network for itself, using a portion of the same spectrum we are looking at for expanding commercial use.” It means “we are heading into our wireless future with something less than a fully coordinated effort. We don’t have a national strategy in place for 5G—and we badly need one,” she said. 

Specifically, the agency took these actions Wednesday:

  • In a Report and Order, the FCC relocates non-federal radiolocation licensees to the 2.9-3.0 GHz band, allowing them to continue operating there on a secondary basis to federal operations. It also allows amateur licensees to individually determine appropriate alternative spectrum from existing available spectrum allocations.
  • The adopted rules remove the secondary, non-federal allocations from the 3.3-3.55 GHz band.  The Report and Order relocates non-federal radiolocation licensees to the 2.9-3.0 GHz band, allowing them to continue operating there on a secondary basis to federal operations.  It also allows amateur licensees to individually determine appropriate alternative spectrum from existing available spectrum allocations.
  • In the Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking also adopted today, the Commission proposes allocating the 3.45-3.55 GHz spectrum band for flexible-use service.  It seeks comment on an appropriate regime to coordinate non-federal and federal use and proposes a band plan, as well as technical, licensing, and competitive bidding rules for the band.  
  • Lastly, it seeks comment on details regarding the processes for relocating non-federal radiolocation operators to the 2.9-3.0 GHz band and sunsetting amateur use in the 3.3-3.5 GHz band.

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

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