The FCC hopes to conduct an auction of high-frequency spectrum in the 28 GHz band suitable for 5G wireless services beginning in November, to be followed immediately by an auction of 24 GHz spectrum, said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai today. The 5G spectrum auctions would include 850 MHz of spectrum in the 28 GHz band and 700 MHz in the 24 GHz band.

5G Spectrum Auctions
Although some carriers plan 5G deployments in lower-frequency spectrum bands, Pai noted that “a lot of the 5G action has been around high-band spectrum.” The reason is that wide swaths of spectrum to support the highest bandwidth are only available in high-frequency bands.

Pai made his comments in an address at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain today.

He cautioned, though, that “there is one caveat” to the November auction kick-off date. “[W]e need the U.S. Congress to pass legislation by May 13 addressing the handling of upfront payments,” he said.

At issue is an existing requirement for auction funds to be held in an interest-bearing account, explained FCC officials on a call with reporters today. Banks today are unwilling to hold the amount of money that would be involved in an interest-bearing account, as is the U.S. Treasury. Accordingly, the FCC has asked Congress to allow funds to be put in the treasury, but not in an interest-bearing account.

Some carriers, including AT&T and Verizon, already have some 28 GHz and 24 GHz spectrum holdings and the telecom industry has seen limited 5G deployments in fixed configurations in those bands.

The advent of 5G in higher-frequency bands is expected to unleash substantial investment in the nation’s communications infrastructure because cellsites operating in those bands will have less range in comparison with today’s cellsites. This will require cellsites to be deployed more densely which, in turn, will drive the need for fiber deployments to backhaul traffic from the cellsites. Once that fiber has been deployed, it also may spur broader deployment of fiber-to-the-premises technology to support higher-speed wireline broadband.