By a unanimous vote at its April open meeting, the FCC adopted a public notice which seeks public comment on application and bidding procedures for auctions of 24 GHz and 28 GHz “millimeter wave” spectrum, which is expected to provide the underpinning of fifth-generation (5G) wireless broadband services throughout the U.S. Scheduled to commence on November 14, the FCC’s planned auction of channels in the 28 GHz (i.e., 27.5-28.55 GHz) band would be the first spectrum sale to be conducted by the agency since the conclusion of the broadcast incentive auction last year. As stated in the public notice, auctions of spectrum in the 24 GHz (i.e., 24.25-24.45 GHz and 24.75-25.25 GHz) band would follow “immediately after” the 28 GHz sale. Together, both auctions would encompass 1.55 GHz of available spectrum with licenses to be designated as the Upper Microwave Flexible Use Service (UMFUS). Such licenses would be auctioned on a geographical area basis with 28 GHz UMFUS licenses to be offered in two 425 MHz blocks by county. UMFUS licenses in the 24 GHz band would be offered in seven 100 MHz blocks by Partial Economic Areas (PEAs).
Designated as Auction 101, the 28 GHz sale would be conducted in accordance with the FCC’s standard simultaneous multiple round format which consists of successive bidding rounds in which every license is offered for sale at the same time. Resembling the method used during the forward auction phase of the incentive auction, the 24 GHz auction (Auction 102) would employ a clock auction format that would permit bidding on generic blocks in each PEA during successive clock bidding rounds. That auction would also include an assignment phase which “would allow bidding for frequency-specific assignments while ensuring contiguous block assignments.”
Comment is requested on the format proposed above and on proposals that envision (1) separate filing windows for each auction, (2) the filing of 24 GHz UMFUS auction applications before the 28 GHz auction is completed, and (3) bidding caps of $25 million for small businesses, $10 million for rural providers and a “10 million cap on the overall amount of bidding credits that any winning small business bidder in either auction may apply to winning licenses in markets with a population of 500,000 or less.” The public notice also solicits input on plans to apply anti-collusion and related rules to both sales if applications for the 24 GHz auction are accepted before the 28 GHz auction is completed. Deadlines for the submission of comments and reply comments are May 9 and May 23, respectively.
Casting his vote in favor of the item, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai characterized Tuesday’s action as evidence that “the FCC has been working hard to do what we need to do to ensure American leadership in 5G.” Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel declared that, with the adoption of the public notice, “this agency takes steps to put ourselves back in the running” in the global race to implement 5G networks, as she emphasized that “we need a pipeline of both millimeter wave and mid-band spectrum for 5G,” while recommending the publication of “a calendar that states clearly to the entire wireless ecosystem . . . just when and how the FCC will auction new airwaves to support 5G services.” That sentiment was echoed by Commissioner Michael O’Rielly who told reporters that “we need to schedule auctions for the 37 and 39 GHz band immediately and create an auction timetable for the other bands coming down the pipeline.”
As they welcomed Tuesday’s vote, players throughout the wireless industry also urged the FCC to move forward in identifying and auctioning additional millimeter wave bands for 5G use. While applauding the FCC “for moving forward with the first high-band spectrum auctions for 5G,” Scott Bergman, the senior vice president of regulatory affairs for wireless association CTIA, said: “we look forward to working with the Commission on implementing these critical auctions and on identifying and auctioning additional bands, including mid-band spectrum, to power the wireless networks of the future.”