On July 14, 2016, the Federal Communications Commission released a Report Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking issuing service rules for four spectrum bands above 24 GHz. These bands are intended to be the future home for 5G wireless services and technologies currently being developed. The FCC’s new rules authorize mobile operations on a licensed basis in the 27.5-28.35 GHz, 38.6-40 GHz, and 37-38.6 GHz bands. The FCC also allocated the 64-71 GHz band for Part 15 use, which, when combined with the Part 15 57-64 GHz band will result in 14 GHz of spectrum for unlicensed operations such as WiGig service – approximately 15 times the amount of unlicensed spectrum available in all of the lower bands combined.
The massive amount of spectrum the FCC made available is newsworthy by itself. But perhaps just as important is the speed with which the FCC moved on its 5G spectrum item. Only 21 months ago the FCC commenced the 5G regulatory process by releasing a Notice of Inquiry seeking initial feedback on the future of 5G services. A year later, it issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposing to allocate spectrum and followed that in nine months with last week’s Report and Order. It was a very quick conclusion to a proceeding many initially projected would take several years. Because of its speed, the FCC established the United States as a world leader in spectrum availability for 5G services. To top it off, initial reactions to the Report and Order are overwhelmingly positive with both the wireless industry and consumer-focused public interest groups praising the FCC’s mix of licensed and unlicensed service rules.
In the Further Notice, the FCC sought comment on authorizing fixed and mobile service in several additional bands: 24.25-24.45 GHz, 24.75-25.25 GHz, 31.8-33 GHz, 42-42.5 GHz, the 47.2-50.2 GHz, 50.4-52.6 GHz, and the 71-76 GHz band together with the 81-86 GHz bands (70/80 GHz bands) and the bands above 95 GHz. The FCC proposed a three-tiered approach to licensing in the 70/80 GHz band similar to the rules recently adopted for the 3.5 GHz band. The proposed tiers are (1) Incumbent Access users, which would receive the highest level of protection; (2) Priority Access Licensees (PALs); and (3) General Authorized Access (GAA) users. Comments are due September 30 and Reply Comments are due October 31.
Commercial 5G services are not yet available. And, for its part, the FCC did not define what will constitute 5G. But the FCC has now established a sandbox within which industry can innovate. We’ll see what the future will bring.