Wireless and electronics industry executives joined public interest groups in welcoming the FCC’s unanimous vote yesterday to allocate nearly 11 GHz of spectrum in the 28 GHz, 37 GHz, 39 GHz, and 64-71 GHz bands for licensed and unlicensed fifth-generation (5G) wireless services of the future. Described by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler as one of the most important decisions in the FCC’s history, the agency’s vote in the so-called “Spectrum Frontiers” proceeding sets the stage for the anticipated commercial debut of 5G wireless services in the U.S market by 2020. In addition to supporting transmission speeds that may prove to be ten times faster than those provided by today’s fourth-generation networks, 5G networks are expected to serve as the linchpin for the Internet of Things. Casting her vote in favor of the FCC’s order, FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn spoke of the possibilities of 5G technology, which, for example, can connect “a refrigerator that not only alerts you to a near empty egg carton, but automatically adds that item to a virtual shopping list, enabling a delivery to your door by week’s end without any action from you.”
Specifically, the newly-adopted FCC rules allocate the following bands for 5G services: 27.5-28.35 GHz, 37-38.6 GHz, 38.6-40 GHz and 64-71 GHz. Crafted for flexibility and for both mobile and fixed wireless broadband uses, the rules, in the words of an FCC press release, “balance different spectrum access approaches” that include “exclusive use licensing, shared access, and unlicensed access, in order to meet a variety of different needs.” The rules also aim to strike a balance between federal government spectrum operations and non-federal terrestrial wireless and satellite uses with the enactment of “effective sharing schemes to ensure that diverse users . . . can co-exist and expand.” Meanwhile, in a related further rulemaking notice, the FCC is soliciting comment on proposals to extend 5G flexible use service and technical rules to an additional 18 GHz of spectrum encompassing eight additional high-frequency bands.
In addition to making the U.S. “the first country in the world to make this spectrum available for next-generation wireless service,” the FCC proclaimed that its action also sets “a strong foundation for the rapid advancement to next-generation 5G networks and technologies” which will “provide vital clarity for business investment in this area.” As Meredith Atwell Baker, the president of wireless association CTIA, termed the FCC’s vote as “a clear victory for American’s mobile-first lives,” Consumer Technology Association President Gary Shapiro applauded FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and his fellow FCC commissioners “for planning for our future.”