FCC’s Pai and Rosenworcel Quarrel Over 5G Auction Rules

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The FCC established procedures Wednesday for the third auction of high-band, flexible-use licenses suitable for 5G. This auction of upper 37 GHz, 39 GHz, and 47 GHz spectrum bands will be the largest spectrum auction so far, offering licenses covering up to 3,400 megahertz.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel sparred during the vote, with Rosenworcel partially dissenting from her colleagues. 

Rosenworcel said 16 countries have auctioned spectrum for 5G services and made mid-band spectrum their priority. She ticked off a list that included Japan, Germany, South Korea, the UK and the United Arab Emirates, among others. “But in the United States, we have yet to auction a single swath of mid-band spectrum,” said Rosenworcel.  

Rosenworcel cautioned: “It’s increasingly apparent that the United States is alone in its mission to make millimeter wave spectrum the core of its domestic 5G approach, and if we continue on this path, prioritizing high band airwaves, we are going to have a serious problem. We will find ourselves on the sidelines, as mid-band spectrum becomes the core of worldwide 5G service. That means less scale, higher costs, interoperability challenges, and less security as other nation’s technologies proliferate.”

Recent 5G launches here at home confirm that commercializing millimeter wave won’t be easy, given its propagation challenges, she asserted, adding that the network densification needed in these bands is costly. Charging that the U.S. has “ceded international leadership for 5G,” Rosenworcel said the Defense Innovation Board, the U.S. military’s premier advisory group, warned America should be concerned, because the country that leads in 5G “is not likely to be the United States.”

“That does not sound good. Our back of the pack approach to mid-band spectrum is leading us down the wrong road in the race to 5G,” she said. Rosenworcel urged her colleagues to “flip its priorities.”

Pai pointedly said it’s both, “ironic and amusing that some continue to claim that we are doing too little to free up mid-band spectrum but then oppose every single initiative we’ve undertaken to do just that. You can’t demand action on mid band spectrum and oppose rules that make it possible to deploy 5G in the 3.5 GHz band. You can’t demand action on mid-band spectrum and then take the position we must wait for Congress to act before we move forward on the mid-band.” 

Pai continued: “You can’t demand action next year on mid-band spectrum and vote against an auction next year that would make 2.5 GHz spectrum available for commercial use. Rather, you can you do all those things, but the inescapable inference is your real commitment is to political gamesmanship and not progress on mid-band spectrum. Fortunately, this agency is focused on the prize, not on politics.”

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Pai agreed mid-band spectrum is vital because it offers important coverage and capacity. The vote to free-up the 2.5GHz band, “is a significant step to unleash mid-band spectrum for 5G wireless services. Not only are these airwaves well-suited to transmit signals further with fewer antennas, the 2.5 Hz band is the largest band of contiguous spectrum below three gigahertz in the United States.”

The Wireless Infrastructure Association is glad the FCC is moving forward with the December 5G spectrum auction. “This step is just what the United States needs to lead the world in 5G,” said WIA President/CEO Jonathan Adelstein. “These bands are vital for intensive data uses, which will put the U.S. another step closer to winning the global race to 5G.” 

CTIA SVP Regulatory Affairs Scott Bergmann called the auction, “a critical opportunity for the deployment of next-generation networks, representing the largest amount of contiguous spectrum available in the millimeter-wave bands. Combined with the additional mid-band spectrum the FCC is reviewing, this action will help meet the growing demands of today’s wireless users and ensure the U.S. continues to lead in 5G.”

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

                                                                         

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