The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) took a significant step on fifth generation, or 5G, wireless networks by releasing a notice of inquiry, or proposal, on a range of spectrum bands, last week.
Spectrum is the finite and valuable radio frequencies that all wireless communications use. Your smartphone, Bluetooth speaker, streaming devices and connected appliances, cars and commercial equipment rely on wireless connections carrying massive amounts of data over airwaves. But these spectrum bands are strained to capacity in our data hungry world, and that consumer appetite is only growing, which makes the FCC’s most recent 5G proposal a crucial step forward for future innovations like autonomous vehicles and smart cities that will improve our lives.
Unlike earlier generations, 5G will take advantage of the different characteristics offered by low-, medium, and high- band spectrum. Here’s how to think about these various bands:
- Low band travels longer distances but cannot transmit data as fast (think mobile phone or tablet use cases);
- High-band can transmit large amounts of data quickly but has trouble penetrating barriers like walls or trees (think in-room, wireless HD video streaming type use cases).
Congress and the FCC have done an excellent job positioning the United States as the global leader in development of low- and high-band spectrum for 5G use by passing and implementing voluntary incentive auctions and moving expeditiously on the Spectrum Frontier’s proceeding, respectively.
Mid-band spectrum allocations for licensed and unlicensed use, however, has been the missing piece of the puzzle. Mid-band spectrum will travel farther than high-band spectrum, and transmit data more quickly than low-band spectrum, enabling a whole range of new applications. Most importantly, providing a mix of licensed and unlicensed mid-band spectrum, which the FCC proposal envisions, will maximize applications for mid-band spectrum.
This mix of spectrum that can be used for many different products and applications will be critical to meet consumer demand for connectivity of an increasing number of devices, and for meeting the growing demand for spectrum being driven by the increase of Internet of Things devices and applications.
To be clear, the FCC’s proposal is just the beginning of the process to make this spectrum available for commercial mobile and unlicensed broadband use, but the idea to move expeditiously on this spectrum has broad support, and the notice of inquiry explicitly recognizes the need to move more quickly on the 3.7 and 6 GHz bands. But we are encouraged by the trajectory of the work being done at the FCC and Congress.
For example, Commissioner Mike O’Reilly wrote an excellent blog further detailing the need to move expeditiously on two specific bands – making 3.7-4.2 GHz available for licensed mobile use, and 6 GHz available for unlicensed use just days before the FCC proposal was released.
In addition, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) started the public call for this asking the FCC for expeditious consideration of these two bands. The bipartisan support for the MOBILE NOW Act, a draft bill from Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), and other work in Congress further demonstrates the support and urgency for action on mid-band spectrum.
While this is just the beginning of the process, we applaud the FCC’s initiative to release this 5G proposal, and hope to continue the bipartisan Congressional work to make this mid-band spectrum available on an expedited timeline.