FCC: 5G-High Band Spectrum Auctions Coming this November

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai says the first two 5G-specific high-band spectrum auctions in the U.S. will be in November, with more to follow in 2019.  The FCC auctions will sell off the 28GHz millimeter wave (mmWave) band, with the bidding expected to start November 14, and the 24GHz band to be sold off “immediately afterward,” Pai said. He announced the auctions on a blog on Medium. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will vote to finalize the rules on the auctions at meeting on August 2.

“With so many wanting so much spectrum for 5G, we’re moving as quickly as possible to make these bands available for commercial use,” the FCC chairman wrote.  Pai expects to hold 3 more millimeter wave auctions in the 2nd half of 2019 in the 37GHz, 39GHz, and 47GHz bands. “To help facilitate that auction on this timeline, I’m proposing rules to clean up the 39 GHz band and move incumbents into rationalized license holdings,” Pai writes.  He didn’t say exactly how much spectrum will be auctioned yet, but the scale and scope of these planned high-band auctions appear to promise to open up the largest tranche of spectrum for wireless broadband yet seen in the U.S.

“5G has the potential to have an enormously positive impact on American consumers,” Pai said in a statement to USA TODAY. “High-speed, high-capacity wireless connectivity will unleash new innovations to improve our quality of life. It’s the building block to a world where everything that can be connected will be connected — where driverless cars talk to smart transportation networks and where wireless sensors can monitor your health and transmit data to your doctor. That’s a snapshot of what the 5G world will look like.”

The FCC is focused on making additional low-, mid-, and high-band spectrum available for 5G services.

  • Low-band: Deploying service in 600 MHz bands post incentive auction.
  • Mid-band: Exploring a shared service framework in the 3.5 GHz band and developing next steps for terrestrial use in the 3.7 GHz band.
  • High-band: Unleashing spectrum at the frontiers of the spectrum chart, including pursuing millimeter wave spectrum for 5G terrestrial use and looking forward to spectrum auctions in 28 and 24 GHz bands.

At its regular monthly meeting Thursday, the FCC will also vote on on a proposal to allow 5G use for mid-band spectrum.  This Fall’s upcoming series of high-band spectrum auctions, Pai said, will “make it easier to deploy the physical infrastructure that will be critical to the 5G networks of the future, I believe that the United States is well positioned to lead the world in 5G. … The large amount of spectrum that the FCC will make available for commercial use will enable the private sector to bring the next generation of wireless connectivity to American consumers.”

In July 2016, the FCC said that it planned to open up 3.85GHz of licensed spectrum in the 28GHz, 37GHz, and 39GHz band. The agency later voted to add 700MHz in the 24GHz band, and nearly 1GHz in the 47GHz band.

This would be an embarrassment of radio riches compared to earlier low-band 4G auctions. The 600MHz auction in 2017 offered 108MHz of spectrum nationwide.

High-band millimeter wave spectrum is expected to be a cornerstone of future gigabit-speed 5G network services. AT&T Inc,  Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile US Inc. have all tested 28GHz spectrum for fixed or mobile services, sometimes both.

The August FCC meeting should further clarify exactly what will be offered in the forthcoming auctions.  One question is whether T-Mobile and Sprint will be allowed to participate in the new auctions, which would likely enable them to build out a 5G pre-standard network in 2019 and in later years.





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