The FCC took steps today to free up spectrum in the 3.1-3.55 GHz band for commercial use and in the 5.9 GHz band for unlicensed use. The 5.9 GHz band is expected to pave the way for gigabit Wi-Fi, while the 3.1-3.55 GHz band is expected to be used for 5G.
The 3.1-3.55 GHz band could be particularly attractive to wireless carriers as it is considered mid-band spectrum, which according to some industry observers, offers the optimum mixture of bandwidth and coverage. In the U.S., only Sprint to date has deployed 5G in mid-band spectrum. Other carriers have chosen other bands, at least in part because of spectrum availability.
FCC Mid-Band Spectrum Plans
According to a press release and comments made by FCC officials at today’s monthly commission meeting, the notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) about the 3.1-3.55 GHz band adopted today seeks comment on relocation options and transition mechanisms.
The upper portion of the band is currently used by non-federal users for radiolocation services and amateur use. The lower portion of the spectrum band is used by federal users, and the item proposes making that spectrum available on a shared basis.
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel cautioned that the steps taken today are preliminary and “we have a long way to go before this set of airwaves can be opened up for 5G.”
She had harsh words for fellow commissioners, who she said have not done enough to make mid-band spectrum available.
“Our spectrum policies are increasingly divorced from the realities on the ground in the United States and the priorities in the rest of the world. And this has consequences for our wireless leadership, the digital divide and national security,” she said.
She pointed to research from the defense innovation board, an advisory board to the U.S. military, that found that “the country that owns 5G will own innovations and set standards for the rest of the world, and that country currently is unlikely to be the United States” because of insufficient mid-band spectrum.
“It’s time to correct course and we need to do it with urgency,” Rosenworcel said.
FCC action on the 5.9 GHz band also took the form of an NPRM adopted at today’s meeting.
Commission officials briefed reporters on the proposal several weeks ago, and the NPRM adopted today largely matches what the officials outlined.
The 5.9 GHz band has been allocated to vehicle-related communications known as dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) since the 1990s, but very few deployments of the technology have been made.
As expected, the FCC proposes to designate the lower 45 MHz of the band for unlicensed use. The spectrum is expected to support gigabit Wi-Fi when combined with other unlicensed spectrum in neighboring bands.
The remaining 30 MHz of spectrum would still be allocated for transportation and vehicle safety-related communications services, but at least 20 MHz of it would be used exclusively to support C-V2X, an alternative vehicle communications option. The NPRM seeks comment on whether the other 10 MHz should be retained for DSRC or allocated to C-V2X.