Mid-band spectrum, the optimal range of frequencies for 5G, is facing a shortage that could leave the United States behind in cellular capabilities, according to a recent report from 5G Americas.
Combining the range of low frequencies with the data capabilities of high frequencies, mid-band spectrum—including the frequencies between 1000 Mhz and 7000 Mhz—is recognized across the industry as offering the optimum mixture of speed and coverage for 5G.
5G Americas’ March 2023 report, “Mid-Band Spectrum Update,” provides a detailed look at various mid-band spectrum frequencies with information about how they are currently used—in most cases, by federal agencies—and what potential they hold for commercial use.
Here is a summary:
- 1300 – 1350 MHz: Some current uses are being relocated to another band. Congress allocated 30 Mhz of this low-band spectrum for auction by 2024, with another 100 Mhz to come.
- 1780 – 1850 MHz: The 1755 Mhz – 1780 Mhz range was auctioned in 2014. For the future, “it is important to determine how to work with the federal systems in the 1780 – 1830 Mhz segment.”
- 2496 – 2690 MHz (The 2.5 Ghz band): Auction 108 in August 2022 led to 63 bidders receiving licenses and 8,017 geographic overlay licenses being made available. This “will help further extend 5g service beyond most populated areas.”
- 3100 – 3550 MHz: Following a 2020 NTIA report to Congress, the FCC and the NTIA are working to open opportunities for commercial use in this range. In 2022, Auction 110 made 100 Mhz of spectrum available via Cooperative Planning Areas (CPAs) and Periodic Use Areas (PUAs).
- 3700 – 3980 MHz (C-Band): 5G deployments in this band began in January 2022 in the 3700 – 3800 Mhz range. An additional 180 Mhz of spectrum will be available by December 2023.
- 4400 – 5000 MHz: While primarily reserved for federal usage for fixed and mobile services, the 4940 – 4990 Mhz band is non-federal and is allocated for mobile service.
- 7125 – 8500 MHz: Although this band is currently only allocated for federal use, it “has been indicated among the main priorities for FCC action beyond the year 2022 as part of the effort towards mid-band spectrum for 6G.”
- 10 – 10.5 GHz: In the U.S., much of this range is used by earth exploration-satellite services (EESS). Commercial coexistence with EESS services is “challenging.”
- 10.7 – 12.2 GHz: The 10.7-11.7 Ghz portion of this band is allocated for non-federal use but, again, the report concludes that commercial “coexistence with the above services seems challenging.”
- 12.2 – 12.7 GHz: This band is primarily used for television and satellite broadcasting. 5G Americas reports that it’s uncertain if the FCC would allocate portions of this band for mobile/internet usage.
- 12.7 – 13.25 GHz: In late 2022, the FCC officially began exploring using 550 Mhz of this band for next-generation services. Their Notice of Inquiry freezes other applications for this band.
United States’ 5G development is currently hindered by the lack of available mid-band spectrum, the researchers argue. The report quotes U.S. Representative Frank Pallone as saying, “we risk falling behind our counterparts by failing to replenish the commercial spectrum pipeline.”
Unfortunately, as 5G Americas concludes, “there are currently no [mid-spectrum] bands in the pipeline.”