The FCC signaled the start of the fifth-generation (5G) wireless era last Thursday with the launch of rulemaking proceedings to consider licensing and service rules for 5G services in specified portions of the 28 GHz, 37 GHz and 39 GHz bands as well as the 64-71 GHz band. Approved 5-0, with partial dissents by FCC Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly, the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) is expected to lead to the adoption of FCC spectrum policies that would support development of new broadband-connected appliances and devices, known as the Internet of Things. The FCC issued the NPRM as U.S. and other international delegates traveling to next week’s 2015 World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) prepare to debate agenda items that include the frequency bands to be considered for 5G services at the following WRC, in 2019.
Following up on a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) issued last year, the NPRM proposes the following bands for licensed or unlicensed 5G services: 27.5-28.35 GHz, 37-
38.6 GHz, 38.6-40 GHz and 64-71 GHz. For the 28 GHz and 39 GHz bands, which are considered ideal for high-capacity, high-throughput small cells, the NPRM proposes a licensing scheme based on county-size geographic areas that could be combined into larger service areas. Fixed as well as mobile broadband operations would be permitted in these bands. In the 37 GHz band, the NPRM proposes a hybrid licensing framework that would give building and other property owners the right to deploy mobile communications within premises not well suited to unlicensed or public networks. Outside of such premises, the FCC would issue geographic area licenses for mobile operations in the 37 GHz band. The 64-71 GHz band would be earmarked for unlicensed 5G operations.
Additionally, the NPRM proposes rules that would facilitate greater satellite use of the 28 GHz, 37 GHz and 39 GHz bands, while also using market and advanced engineering mechanisms to preserve terrestrial usage of those bands. Comment is sought on technical and other rules that would protect incumbent operations in these bands. Unlicensed mobile users in the 64-71 GHz band would be required to protect incumbent federal users as well. The NPRM also solicits industry input on what other bands the FCC should consider for 5G services.
While otherwise supporting the item, Commissioners Pai and O’Rielly issued partial dissents, arguing that the NPRM should have included spectrum in the 24 GHz, 29 GHz, 31 GHz and other bands that were also covered in last year’s NOI. Responding to Pai’s protest that the NPRM thus represents “a lost opportunity,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler maintained that the NPRM would allocate “about 3,850 MHz of spectrum” which amounts to “six times . . . the commercial spectrum that this agency has ever authorized.”
Meanwhile, industry leaders lined up in support of the NPRM, which, in the words of CTIA vice president Scott Bergmann, “offers the potential for increased capacity and speeds, lower lag time and high-density connections to unleash the Internet of Things.” As Verizon Communications vice president Charla Rath termed the NPRM “extremely important” in preserving U.S. leadership of the global broadband sector, Satellite Industry Association President Tom Stroup said, “we look forward to working with the FCC as it considers how to provide spectrum access to all technologies in a manner that does not constrain the development of the satellite services that are currently operating or planned in the future.”