The long-awaited auction of spectrum in the 3.5 GHz CBRS band could start in June 2020, assuming the FCC adopts an auction plan at the monthly commission meeting later this month.

The 3.5 GHz CBRS auction will include 70 MHz of mid-band spectrum suitable for 5G service – spectrum that is expected to see strong demand, as other recent and upcoming auctions have emphasized high-frequency millimeter wave spectrum. The CBRS auction start date would be June 25, 2020, according to a blog post from FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

In the post, Pai took credit, along with Commissioner Michael O’Rielly for changing the rules for the auction to make the spectrum more appealing to mobile carriers.

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“The 3.5 GHz band is prime spectrum for 5G services,” Pai wrote. “But when I became Chairman, we didn’t have the right rules in place to encourage the deployment of 5G in the band.  That’s why I asked Commissioner O’Rielly to lead our effort to adopt targeted updates to the licensing and technical rules for the 3.5 GHz band with the aim of promoting more investment and innovation.  Thanks to Commissioner O’Rielly’s leadership, we put the rules in place last year that will facilitate the deployment of 5G in the 3.5 GHz band.  And we are now ready to start the process that will lead to the 3.5 GHz auction commencing next June.”

Rules initially put in place for the 3.5 GHz CBRS band called for small license areas and short license terms with the goal of spurring fixed wireless deployments. The rule changes that Pai referenced expanded the size of license areas from census blocks to counties and lengthened license terms from three years to ten.

The 70 MHz of spectrum that will be included in the 3.5 GHz CBRS auction is only part of the band. A similar amount of spectrum in the band will soon be available for use on an unlicensed and shared basis with incumbent military users. A portion of that spectrum is already in use by fixed wireless providers that use it to provide broadband service in rural areas and who will have the option of using more of the unlicensed portion of the band and/or bidding on licenses.

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