FCC Approves Plan for Freeing Up More 5G Spectrum

The FCC has voted unanimously on service rule changes as part of a framework for freeing up spectrum in the upper 37 GHz (37.6-38.6 GHz), 39 GHz (38.6-40 GHz) and 47 GHz (47.2-48.2 GHz) millimeter wave bands, it's latest effort to boost the deployment of
5G, IoT and more, and the largest swath of contiguous spectrum currently available in the millimeter-wave bands.

It was the fourth report and order in the FCC's Spectrum Frontiers proceeding.

Related: FCC Votes to Put More Broadband Spectrum Into Play

The plan would make the spectrum available in 100 MHz blocks, licensed by partial economic areas for flexible use. The requires re-configuring the 37 and 39 GHz spectrum from 200 MHz blocks to 100 Mhz.

Incumbents in the band have the choice of modifying their licenses per the new framework, coming up with their own proposal that fits FCC criteria, or give up their licenses for an incentive payment from those licenses' auction.

There will be a contiguous forward auction for all three bands, and an incentive auction to compensate incumbents who give up their spectrum.

FCC chair Ajit Pai said the item would help the FCC stay ahead of the spectrum curve, including the second-ever incentive auction--after the broadcast incentive auction.

Related: Verizon Clears Capital for 5G Investment by Laying Off 10,400 Workers

FCC commissioner Michael O'Rielly said they were voting to rationalize licenses that will enable next-gen service. He said it should insure that licenses go to those who value them the most. He conceded it was not the simplest process, but suggested that it was necessary in this case, and could be in future cases, to free up clear, exclusive-use, licenses.

Commissioner Brendan Carr said that 2019 will be the year of 5G, in part because the FCC continues to open up spectrum.

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said the bands at issue will be primed and ready for the first 5G devices. She has long-championed the auction of contiguous-band spectrum and giving incumbents auctions. She also said she has long said there should be
a WiFi dividend of unlicensed in the FCC's spectrum moves, which is why she supports the item's committing in 2019 to advance unlicensed in the lower 39 GHz band. She said the item had her full-throated support.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.