FCC Opens Up 5G Spectrum

The FCC voted Thursday on its Spectrum Frontiers item, which are new rules to open up spectrum bands for 5G wireless and fixed broadband, including for the kind of augmented reality that is sweeping the nation via Pokémon Go.

It would open up four new bands—three licensed and one unlicensed—and seek input on opening up three more bands.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler called it one of the most important votes the commission has taken. Wheeler said the vote meant the U.S. was the first country in the world to identify and open up vast amounts of high-frequency spectrum for 5G, which he called the first step in enabling high-speed, high-capacity, low-latency broadband.

The item was billed as a flexible framework for deploying new services without creating undue interference, including via spectrum sharing of licensed and unlicensed spectrum.

There is an interoperability requirement for equipment but no specific protections for existing satellite receivers.

The vote was 5-0, with Wheeler and commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel voting yes, and commissioner Ajit Pai approving in part and concurring in part and commissioner Michael O’Rielly approving in part and dissenting in part.

"The Commission has struck a balance between new wireless services, current and future fixed satellite service operations, and federal uses,” the FCC said. “The item adopts effective sharing schemes to ensure that diverse users – including federal and non-federal, satellite and terrestrial, and fixed and mobile – can co-exist and expand.”

"With the adoption of these rules, the Commission has created a runway for U.S. companies to launch the technologies that will harness 5G’s fiber-fast capabilities," it added.

That includes Pokémon Go, said one group following the vote.

"As you see 'trainers' running around parks and city streets capturing Pokémon Go on their mobile phones, remind yourself of the amazing technologies at work enabling this augmented reality game that is sweeping the nation," said Vince Jesaitis, VP of government affairs for the Information Technology Industry Council. He added that, for one thing, was "why [Thursday's]’s vote by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to make fifth generation (5G) wireless networks a reality is a historic one, and one that will cement U.S. leadership in 5G connectivity..."

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.