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May 14, 2019

5G Needs an All-of-the-Above Spectrum Policy .

5G Needs an All-of-the-Above Spectrum Policy


CTIA EVP Brad Gillen
Brad Gillen
Executive Vice President

The U.S. strategy to lead the world in 5G technology is sound, and the U.S. industry is investing billions of dollars executing on that strategy right now.  The President recently made clear our nation’s strategy is “freeing up as much wireless spectrum as needed.”  Julie Knapp, the FCC’s leading engineer, may have summed it up best, “with our all-of-the-above spectrum strategy, the United States is well positioned to lead in 5G.”  By that he means, we will need all types of spectrum—low-, mid-, and high-band—to power these next-gen wireless networks and deliver all the new innovation we want and need.

Those out there now saying we are building 5G with the “wrong” spectrum (mmWave or high-band) flatly misunderstand how 5G works.  Critics are right that we do need more mid-band spectrum, and lots of it.  We have made that clear here, here, and here.  There is also a plan from the FCC and Administration to do just that.  It is about execution right now, and we should all be working together on expediting our efforts to address this clear national mid-band priority.

We also need high-band, and lots of it to win at 5G.  That’s why we should all be celebrating our global leadership in high-band.   Efforts to undercut, or even undo, our high-band wins puts at risk our 5G national strategy and the President’s clear direction that we “have more 5G spectrum than any other country in the world” by next year.  It also does nothing at all to advance our mid-band priorities.

Somehow lost in this debate is also the importance of low-band to 5G.  Operators are busy building out low-band 5G right now, and still others are optimizing technologies to allow 4G and 5G to utilize the same spectrum bands.  This is a true “all-in” strategy, and we need the entire Administration and industry unified in delivering on the full suite of spectrum we will need to improve health care, education, transportation, and more.

High-Band and Mid-Band Are Complements, Not Competitors

The illogical idea that we must choose either high-band or mid-band for 5G stems from a recent Department of Defense advisory board report, which missed the mark on a number of basic 5G concepts.  You can read CTIA’s full recent response, but the core failing in that Report was that we should try to build 5G with only mid-band spectrum.

The benefits of 5G—huge capacity and minimal latency—can be realized to their greatest extent with high-band spectrum.  While low- and mid-band spectrum offer significant 5G benefits, relying solely on those bands would leave the U.S. at a substantial disadvantage.  That is like asking Giannis Antetokounmpo to beat the Warriors with one foot.

No country in the world has that strategy. The all-of-the-above approach to 5G spectrum is basic high school physics, and was completely uncontroversial until this Report whose authors failed to reach out to those actually building 5G. In doing so, the Defense Innovation Board report went from a real opportunity to collaborate on U.S. spectrum policy to a highly flawed document risking bad policy outcomes.

Our First Mover Advantage

The United States’ progress on high-band is one of the core reasons another recent study found that our country leapt up the global 5G rankings. As that report from Analysys Mason noted, “the FCC was one of the first regulators globally to confirm a strategy for releasing [high]-band spectrum.”

To date, the U.S. has auctioned the 28 GHz band, is currently auctioning the 24 GHz band, and is expected to auction the 37, 39, and 47 GHz bands by the end of the year.  We will have 4,950 gigahertz of high-band spectrum at the conclusion of this year’s auctions.

That’s real policy leadership, and American consumers are already benefiting with new services thanks to that leadership.  Many billions invested in high-band spectrum and small cell networks are unlocking new capabilities.   Far from distancing themselves from our strategy, as the Defense Innovation Board report would suggest, other countries are scrambling to catch up to the United States on high-band.

For instance, China plans to make 2,000 megahertz of high-band available per wireless provider, Japan is making the 27-29.5 GHz band available, Australia and Luxembourg the 24.25-27.5 GHz band, Norway and Romania the 26 GHz band, and Taiwan the 28 GHz band. The list of nations pursuing high-band spectrum goes on and on: Italy auctioned off the 26.5-27.5 GHz band in 2018, and South Korea auctioned off the 28 GHz band last summer (and will make an additional 2 gigahertz above 24 GHz available by 2021).

The chart below illustrates that countries around the globe are racing to catch up.

That can hardly be characterized as a situation in which the U.S. finds itself “without followers” when it comes to 5G spectrum policy. If anything, it underscores the need to preserve every MHz of high-band already allocated to mobile 5G, and quickly find more so other countries don’t eclipse us.  That is our actual high-band challenge.

Wireless providers are building 5G networks with an “all of the above” approach, and that’s how Chairman Pai and other key leaders are approaching the Administration’s spectrum policy and FCC’s 5G Fast Plan. We all need to get behind that approach right now if we truly want to be global 5G leaders.   To lead, we certainly can’t walk away from our 5G strengths.

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