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November 12, 2018

The First High-Band Auction Starts This Week .

The First High-Band Auction Starts This Week


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

This week the FCC will begin the first-ever auction of high-band spectrum in the U.S., helping position America for global 5G wireless leadership.  This is all thanks to the foresight and leadership of FCC Chairman Pai, former Chairman Wheeler, and the great FCC staff.

Starting with the 28 GHz band auction, the FCC will quickly move to auction the 24 GHz band, with plans to auction the 37, 39, and 47 GHz bands in 2019. Together, the FCC will look to auction more than five gigahertz of spectrum above 24 GHz.

We talk about the U.S. winning the race to 5G a lot, and these auctions will play a critical role. Countries like South Korea, Italy, and Greece have already auctioned high-band spectrum and many more nations are moving forward with plans to do so in the near future.

High-band Spectrum is a Key 5G Driver.  The FCC’s plans build on the successful results of three decades of lower band spectrum auctions that have provided the spectrum we rely on today to talk, text, and communicate.

The U.S. is now poised to reap the benefits of auctions in high-band spectrum that will serve as a key complement to low- and mid-band spectrum and deliver the ultra-fast speeds of 5G, expand network capacity, and provide important backhaul support. These high bands will provide large swaths of spectrum for the very high speed, low-latency wireless communications that are the essence of 5G.

Industry R&D Unlocked This Spectrum.  A few short years ago, the notion of using high-band spectrum to power commercial wireless services was not even a possibility. Today, new technological breakthroughs—developments in antenna technology and the densification of mobile broadband networks—have dramatically changed the potential uses of spectrum bands above 24 GHz.

These engineering-based innovations have helped transform bands once suited for more limited uses into airwaves that are capable of delivering the next generation of wireless.  The wireless industry keeps looking for new ways—and investing tens of millions to do so—to better serve Americans.

A New Kind of Auction.  These auctions are different from recent lower band auctions as the table stakes for bidding is likely to be much lower.  The FCC has set minimum opening bids for the 28 GHz band at an average of $0.00044 per MHz-PoP, which is less than two-tenths of one percent of the average minimum opening bid in the 600 MHz band auction ($0.23 per MHz-PoP) that kicked off just two years ago.

Primarily, the difference is attributable to basic physics and the propagation characteristics between high-band spectrum and low-band spectrum. Airwaves in the high-band spectrum travel much shorter distances than low-band spectrum.  We measure low-band signals in miles—and high-band in meters.

Given that high-band spectrum does not travel nearly as far as low-band spectrum, a much denser wireless network infrastructure is required. For example, a small cell using 28 GHz might serve less than three percent of the area of an urban macro cell using 600 MHz spectrum.


A small cell using 28 GHz might serve less than three percent of the area (represented in purple) of an urban macro cell using 600 MHz spectrum (area represented in green).
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A small cell using 28 GHz might serve less than three percent of the area (represented in purple) of an urban macro cell using 600 MHz spectrum (area represented in green).

That means to cover the same area, high-band spectrum requires significantly more small cells and infrastructure sites, each of which has fixed costs: power, backhaul, and rent—not to mention the capital investment costs before those additional fixed costs even get covered.

What’s more, significant portions of these high-band airwaves are already in the hands of operators. Thanks to secondary market transactions, over three-quarters of the 28 GHz band in the top 50 markets and over half of the band nationwide are already licensed (and some of that is already serving consumers today).  Similarly, in the 39 GHz band, over three-quarters of the band is already licensed in the top 50 markets.

The Bottom Line. High-band airwaves are key to powering next-gen 5G networks and the faster we get this spectrum to operators, the faster we will benefit from the great 5G applications from health care to transportation.  For these auctions, the key thing to watch is the speed of the FCC’s process even if the proceeds aren’t as eye-popping as we have been used to in recent years.

Thanks to FCC leadership, the U.S. is leading the world in making high-band spectrum available. The wireless industry will continue its own world-leading efforts to deploy the next-generation of wireless here in America, and high-band airwaves will be a key component of our 5G success.

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