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October 2, 2018

The FCC is Moving Forward on Mid-Band .

The FCC is Moving Forward on Mid-Band

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CTIA SVP Scott Bergmann
Scott Bergmann
Senior Vice President, Regulatory Affairs

Today, Commissioner Mike O’Rielly announced that the FCC will soon finalize rules for the 3.5 GHz band, setting the agency on a clear path to unleash the first swath of mid-band airwaves in the U.S.

This is a big deal. Here’s why.

Mid-band spectrum is considered a key building block for 5G networks, thanks to its unique abilities to both travel far and offer high capacity for mobile traffic.   As Commissioner O’Rielly noted in an op-ed earlier today, “the [3.5 GHz] spectrum band is going to be the quickest and most appropriate band to initiate mid-band 5G services in the United States.”

In the last six months, Japan, South Korea, Spain, and the UK have brought mid-band spectrum to market. These countries know that mid-band airwaves will be instrumental in tapping the full potential of 5G.

Here in the U.S., the 3.5 GHz band has had a long journey. Since the FCC first proposed to open this band up for commercial use in 2012, we’ve seen an increased focus on small cell technology to support 4G LTE and the development of next-gen 5G wireless networks.  This change in technology and focus on 5G leadership only underscores the importance of the agency’s investment-friendly changes announced today.

In 2012, 5G wasn’t on the agency’s radar. Even in 2015, when the FCC initially adopted rules for the band, creating an experimental spectrum sharing framework, the agency’s decision didn’t have a single mention of 5G.

The reforms the FCC will vote on later this month—longer license terms, larger geographic area licenses, and an expectation that licenses will be renewed—for the licensed spectrum in the band will be critical to making the most out of this 5G-ready spectrum.

In particular, the FCC’s proposal on geographic license sizes, based on counties and with the possibility of aggregation to metropolitan service areas in larger markets, appears to offer a reasonable, middle-ground approach that will provide opportunities for a wide array of wireless providers.

While these geographic sizes are significantly smaller than what most other countries are using to license mid-band spectrum, they are a major improvement from the micro-licenses based on census tracts that were originally proposed for this band and which would have severely hampered use of this spectrum.

These reforms are also critical to ensuring that the novel framework of the 3.5 GHz band is a success. Under this experimental framework, access to a spectrum band will be directed—for the first time—by entities known as Spectrum Access Systems, charged with coordinating real-time interference protection for incumbents and licensees.

It is important to remember that the new 3.5 GHz rules will offer unlicensed access to more than half of the band and the potential for opportunistic access to the entire band.  The proposed order focuses on the licensed portion of the band and, even there, the changes are narrowly-tailored to promote investment in that segment of the band.

CTIA believes this approach, while previously untried, should be given a real chance to succeed, and the longer license terms and expectation of license renewal will be instrumental in driving the necessary level of investment and commitment.

All of this makes Commissioner O’Rielly’s announcement today an important step toward advancing 5G investment and innovation in the 3.5 GHz band.

It also builds on the infrastructure reforms adopted by the FCC last week. Given the propagation characteristics of the band, small cell deployments in the 3.5 GHz spectrum will take more time to deploy for coverage and capacity.

Together, these actions will help the wireless industry more rapidly deploy small cells, help meet the expanding demand for wireless broadband, and build out the 5G networks that will power our connected future.

By adopting this 3.5 GHz proposal and moving quickly to set an auction of this spectrum in 2019, the FCC will continue to show its commitment to U.S. global 5G leadership—a commitment that is matched by America’s wireless industry.

U.S. wireless providers are lighting up 5G networks, with dozens of deployments are expected in the near future. Our members are showing their dedication and their commitment through real actions—5G-driven investments in communities across the country.

With today’s news, America’s wireless industry is better positioned build the next-gen networks of tomorrow, and that’s something we can all celebrate.

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