FCC Approves New 5G Spectrum

FCC_New_LogoIn what is already being called the 5G Order, in Docket FCC 16-89 the FCC just released a lot of new spectrum. Quoted directly from the FCC Order the new spectrum is as follows:

Specifically, the rules create a new Upper Microwave Flexible Use service in the 28 GHz (27.5-28.35 GHz), 37 GHz (37-38.6 GHz), and 39 GHz (38.6-40 GHz) bands, and an unlicensed band at 64-71 GHz.

  • Licensed use in the 28 GHz, 37 GHz and 39 GHz bands: Makes available 3.85 GHz of licensed, flexible use spectrum, which is more than four times the amount of flexible use spectrum the FCC has licensed to date.
    • Provides consistent block sizes (200 MHz), license areas (Partial Economic Areas), technical rules, and operability across the exclusively licensed portion of the 37 GHz band and the 39 GHz band to make 2.4 GHz of spectrum available.
    • Provides two 425 MHz blocks for the 28 GHz band on a county basis and operability across the band.
  • Unlicensed use in the 64-71 GHz band: Makes available 7 GHz of unlicensed spectrum which, when combined with the existing high-band unlicensed spectrum (57-64 GHz), doubles the amount of high-band unlicensed spectrum to 14 GHz of contiguous unlicensed spectrum (57-71 GHz). These 14 GHz will be 15 times as much as all unlicensed Wi-Fi spectrum in lower bands.

The U.S. is the first country to authorize specific use of this much spectrum in these upper bands, which have commonly been referred to as millimeter wave spectrum. And the FCC isn’t yet finished. Along with the Order, the FCC issued a Further Notice for Proposed Rulemaking to look at how it should deal with other blocks of spectrum, including existing space in the 24-25 GHz, 32 GHz, 42 GHz, 48 GHz, 51 GHz, 70 GHz, and 80 GHz. The FCC also asked for comments on how it might provide access to spectrum above 95 GHz.

The FCC hopes that opening up this spectrum will result in a lot of new wireless applications. Today there are two planned uses for the millimeter wave spectrum. The cellular 5G standard talks about using this spectrum on a broadcast basis to deliver high bandwidth for short distances. That most likely means use as a way to deliver big bandwidth wirelessly within a room or office.

There is also an application today for using these frequencies for point-to-point microwaves. These radios can deliver about 2 gigabits on a point-to-point basis and can act as a fiber replacement where the economics make sense. But these frequencies are largely killed by heavy rain and they need pure line-of-site, meaning nothing between the transmitter and the receiver. Still, there are hopes that in rural areas this could be a replacement for building expensive fiber for just a few customers, or as a way to reach remote locations.

The FCC is hoping that releasing such large blocks of spectrum will result in a burst of research and development, much like what happened when they first released WiFi. At that time the FCC first created WiFi spectrum blocks there were only a few applications envisioned, but engineers and entrepreneurs have since developed a huge range of WiFi applications far beyond what the FCC first envisioned.

The FCC is adopting flexible regulatory rules for the new spectrum. Licensees will be able to get a 10-year license either as a common carrier, as a non-common carrier or for private internal communications. They are expecting to issue numerous licenses per area and don’t expect a lot of interference issues due to the short-distance nature of the propagation for these spectrums. A lot of the specific details will need to be generated by the FCC Wireless Bureau.


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