Wicker, Thune: Pai Is Key To Winning in 5G

Senate Republican leaders have urged FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to move faster to free up midband spectrum, signaling that doing so could help determine the winner in the race to 5G, a race President Donald Trump says the U.S. has to win.  

It seemed a bit like carrying coals to Newcastle, but the Republican chairs of the Senate Commerce Committee and Communications Subcommittee sent a letter to Pai last week urging him to speed the freeing-up and deployment of 5G spectrum, particularly midband spectrum. 

Sen. Roger Wicker

Sen. Roger Wicker

They are looking specifically at the C-band (3.7-4.2 GHz), which the FCC is currently considering just how to, and how much to, free up, including extending the comment period last week to get more input on what authority it has to compensate incumbent stakeholders in that effort. 

Related: Senate Looks to Speed Up Spectrum Availability 

They said the FCC has been making enormous progress, particularly in higher bands, but that the U.S. lags other countries in freeing up mid-band and needs to pick up the pace. They put the onus on the chairman in no uncertain terms. 

"Your action to speed up the availability of mid-band spectrum for 5G will play a crucial role in determining whether the American people will reap the full benefits of next-generation technology and whether the United States will win the massive economic benefits associated with leading the world in 5G." 

Sen. John Thune

Sen. John Thune

The FCC has been auctioning high-band (millimeter wave) spectrum over the past few months--the 24GHz and 28 GHz spectrum-- with more on the way, something the senators acknowledge. But the senators, Commerce Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Subcommittee Chair John Thune (R-S.D.),  say they want Chairman Pai to pick up the pace on the C-Band spectrum, which is in the mid-band sweet spot of propagation and resiliency. 

“In MOBILE NOW [Thune motormanned that bill]  Congress directed the FCC to evaluate commercial wireless use of spectrum in the 3.7 GHz to 4.2 GHz band, and the Commission has begun the process," they wrote. "In the year since passage of that law, the need for action has become even more acute. It has been estimated that accelerating infrastructure deployment by one year could drive an additional $100 billion in economic impact in the next three years. Therefore, we urge the Commission to act quickly to make spectrum in the 3.7 GHz to 4.2 GHz band available for 5G.” 

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.