FCC Commissioner: Choosing the WRONG LANE (mmWave) in the race for 5G Spectrum

by Jessica Rosenworcel, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in Wired.com – edited by Alan J Weissberger, IEEE ComSoc

Edited Summary:

Lost in the glowing 5G hype and headlines is the fact the United States is making choices that will leave rural America behind.

These choices will harm our global leadership in 5G and could create new challenges for the security of our networks.

The most important input in our new wireless world is spectrum, or the airwaves that are used to send and receive the radio signals that power wireless communications. For decades, slices of spectrum have been reserved for different uses, from television broadcasting to military radar. But today, demands on our airwaves have grown. So the Federal Communications Commission has been working to clear these airwaves of old uses and auction them so they can be re-purposed for new 5G service.

However, not all spectrum is created equal. The traditional sweet spot for wireless service has been in what we call low-band or mid-band spectrum. This is between 600 MHz and 3 GHz. For a long time, these airwaves were considered beachfront property because they send signals far. In other words, they cover wide areas but require little power to do so. This makes them especially attractive for service in rural areas, where technology that can reach more people with less infrastructure makes greater economic sense.

For 5G, however, the United States has focused on making high-band spectrum the core of its early 5G approach. These airwaves, known as “millimeter wave [1],” are way, way up there—above 24 GHz. They have never been used in cellular networks before, and for good reason—they don’t send signals very far and are easily blocked by walls. That means they are very expensive to build out. On the flip side, these airwaves offer a lot more capacity, which translates into ultra-fast speeds.

Note 1.  Millimeter wave spectrum is the band of spectrum between 30 GHz and 300 GHz. Wedged between microwave and infrared waves, this spectrum can be used for high-speed wireless communications as seen with the latest IEEE 802.11ad Wi-Fi standard (operating at 60 GHz). It is being considered by standards organization, the Federal Communications Commission and researchers as the way to bring “5G” into the future by allocating more bandwidth to deliver faster, higher-quality video, and multimedia content and services.


The United States is alone in this mission to make millimeter wave the core of its domestic 5G networks. The rest of the world is taking a different approach. Other nations vying for wireless leadership are not putting high-band airwaves front and center now. Instead, they are focusing on building 5G networks with mid-band spectrum, because it will support faster, cheaper, and more ubiquitous 5G deployment.

Take China, which allocated large swaths of mid-band spectrum for its carriers last year, clearing the way for deployment in a country that is also home to Huawei, the largest telecommunications equipment supplier worldwide. South Korea and Australia wrapped up an auction of key mid-band spectrum last year. At roughly the same time, Spain and Italy held their own auctions for mid-band airwaves. Austria did the same earlier this year. Switzerland, Germany, and Japan also auctioned a range of mid-band spectrum just a few months ago.

The United States, however, has made zero mid-band spectrum available at auction for the 5G economy. Moreover, it has zero mid-band auctions scheduled.  This is a problem.

By ceding international leadership when it comes to developing 5G in the mid-band, we miss the benefits of scale and face higher costs and interoperability challenges. It also means less security as other nations’ technologies proliferate. Indeed, the most effective thing the United States can do in the short term to enhance the security of 5G equipment is make mid-band spectrum available, which will spur a broader market for more secure 5G equipment that will also benefit other countries that are pursuing mid-band deployments.

By auctioning only high-band spectrum, we also risk worsening the digital divide that already plagues so many rural communities in the United States. That’s because recent commercial launches of 5G service across the country are confirming what we already know—that commercializing millimeter wave will not be easy or cheap, given its propagation challenges. The network densification [2.] these airwaves require is substantial.

Note 2.  Network densification will require hundreds of thousands of small cells which have to be mounted on public property in the U.S.  The FCC issued a new ruling in September 2018 that set federal standards for small cell deployment regulation that aim to streamline the roll-out of 5G services across state and local governments. Similarly, state legislatures across the country have been considering bills that would create a uniform permitting and regulatory framework to support 5G network deployments.  In general, a local government license will be required by the wireless telco that owns each small cell.   Not all licenses will be granted as many city officials envision hordes of small cells to be a gigantic eyesore.




In fact, recent tests of newly launched commercial 5G networks in the United States are showing that millimeter wave signals are not traveling more than 350 feet, even when there are no major obstructions. They are also not penetrating walls or windows, making indoor coverage difficult.

This means that high-band 5G service is unlikely outside of the most populated urban areas. The sheer volume of antenna facilities needed make this service viable makes it too costly to deploy in rural areas. So if we want to serve everywhere—and not create communities of 5G haves and have-nots—we are going to need a mix of airwaves that provide both coverage and capacity. That means we need mid-band spectrum. For rural America to see competitive 5G in the near future, we cannot count on high-band spectrum to get the job done.

The heat-seeking headlines about 5G are hard to resist. But the reality on the ground needs attention, too. For the United States to have secure 5G service available to everyone, everywhere, we need to stop going at it alone with millimeter wave spectrum. We need to make it a priority to auction mid-band airwaves right now. The longer we wait, the further behind the United States will fall—and the less likely our rural communities will see the benefits of next generation of (5G) wireless technology.

Original article:



CTIA on 5G Spectrum:



4 thoughts on “FCC Commissioner: Choosing the WRONG LANE (mmWave) in the race for 5G Spectrum

  1. 5G: Cheers and cautions

    In Indianapolis, one of a handful of cities with 5G capabilities offered by AT&T and Verizon, industry, academic, government state and national leaders met at the Indy 5G Summit to highlight the opportunities it represents and build alliances to ensure the city and state can play a leading role in this emerging technology.

    Rep. Susan W. Brooks (R-Ind.) led a discussion of the E-FRONTIER Act, a bill she co-sponsored to prevent the federal government from managing the construction of a nationwide 5G network and instead rely on the expertise of the private sector to lead the expansion.

    “There is tremendous potential in 5G technology in both advancing internet speeds and in creating millions of new jobs and maintain our country’s global leadership,” Brooks said. “It’s important that this technology stays in the private sector where all can benefit from its potential.”

    The group also discussed the creation of an Indy 5G Zone — a testbed for companies to pilot 5G-enabled applications, summit organizers said.

    “The full potential promised by 5G: higher speed, faster response and edge intelligence, can only be realized when the whole ecosystem of innovation brings ‘killer apps’ to the growing infrastructure. The Indy 5G Zone will help accelerate such innovations.” Mung Chiang, Purdue University’s John A. Edwardson Dean of the College of Engineering “The AT&T and Verizon deployment of 5G in Indianapolis is a key step, enabling companies large and small to come here and test their 5G-enabled products. In wireless and in cars, Indy is speedy.”

    In fact, Team Penske, the winner of the Indy 500, used 5G to stream and analyze high-quality video of its drivers on the track during practice. With that real-time feed, the team was able to better analyze a driver’s performance on specific turns make immediate changes while a car was on track.

    “Prior to 5G, we’d capture video of a six- to seven-hour practice session, store it in on a memory card, then go back to the garage and analyze that information after practice,” team Engineer Carlos Gutierrez told SportTechie. “The faster this data gets to the team, the faster we can help the driver on the next lap and gain a competitive edge.”

    “Before, spotters had to rely on a pair of binoculars, or delayed video feeds. With 5G, we’re giving them access to information they never had before so they can warn the driver of an accident ahead or who’s coming up behind them,” said Alex Smith, a member of Verizon’s technical staff.

    Not all users have the resources of a professional racing team, and that’s what concerns Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.

    In a June 10 op-ed in Wired, “Choosing the Wrong Lane in the Race to 5G,” Rosenworcel suggested that by basing our 5G wireless service on high-band spectrum, rather than mid-band, the U.S. will widen the digital divide, especially for rural users.

    High-band 5G offers greater speed and capacity, but the millimeter wave signals it’s based on are much more limited in range than mid-band spectrum offerings, sometimes “not traveling more than 350 feet, even when there are no major obstructions,” she said. The signals also have difficulty penetrating walls and windows, which means “antenna facilities needed make this service viable makes it too costly to deploy in rural areas,” she said.

    Besides leaving rural Americans behind, Rosenworcel said the fact that the U.S. has made no mid-band spectrum available at auction for 5G applications, “we miss the benefits of scale and face higher costs and interoperability challenges” in addition to security challenges as other nations develop more mid-band technologies.

    She advocated continued research and development in the mid-band spectrum. “For the United States to have secure 5G service available to everyone, everywhere, we need to stop going at it alone with millimeter wave spectrum,” she said. “We need to make it a priority to auction mid-band airwaves right now. The longer we wait, the further behind the United States will fall — and the less likely our rural communities will see the benefits of next generation of wireless technology.”

    About the Author

    Susan Miller is executive editor at GCN.

    Over a career spent in tech media, Miller has worked in editorial, print production and online, starting on the copy desk at IDG’s ComputerWorld, moving to print production for Federal Computer Week and later helping launch websites and email newsletter delivery for FCW. After a turn at Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, where she worked to promote technology-based economic development, she rejoined what was to become 1105 Media in 2004, eventually managing content and production for all the company’s government-focused websites. Miller shifted back to editorial in 2012, when she began working with GCN.

  2. Verizon to FCC Chairman Pai: We need more mid-band spectrum for 5G

    Top Verizon executives urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to expand access to “underutilized” mid-band spectrum in the 3.7-4.2 GHz region — the C-Band — in a meeting with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and an adviser. Verizon’s William Johnson stated in a filing that he and company leader Hans Vestberg told the FCC that “prompt access to mid-band spectrum is now critical to achieving the full promise of 5G.”


  3. Real world 5G not ready for primetime in 2019, By Chris Duckett for Null Pointer

    No killer use case and suspect speed increases means it’s best to wait a while before joining the 5G bandwagon.

    “If reports of a 5G gap are true, operators in markets facing Huawei restrictions could theoretically see higher equipment spending or delays in 5G implementation. But given the lack of value-added, 5G-ready use case applications, our forecast for 5G investment and customer appetite is bearish, so any incremental increase cost or delay should be nonmaterial to the ratings,” S&P said.

    The ratings agency further stated that slowing smartphone uptake, combined with 5G rollouts occurring at a “restrained pace” until telcos figure out how to make money from it, is minimising any ill-effects from shutting out Huawei in certain markets.

    To sum up the view of S&P: The 5G emperor in 2019 has very few clothes.


  4. FCC controversially relaxes its rules to open mid-band spectrum for 5G

    The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has voted to relax its rules around who can own spectrum in the 2.5GHz band.

    Rules first established in the Kennedy-era required spectrum in the 2.5GHz band to be used for educational purposes. With more spectrum now needed for 5G, the FCC has decided to open up the “underutilised” airwaves.

    The FCC voted 3-2 in favour of changing the rules and claims it will help with “closing the digital divide” between rural and more developed areas.

    FCC Chairman Ajit Pai called the vote “a major step toward freeing up critical mid-band spectrum for 5G.”

    Sprint uses leased spectrum in the 2.5GHz band for its 4G network and its ongoing rollout of 5G. Part of the reason why T-Mobile is willing to splash $26 billion on acquiring Sprint is to use the mid-band spectrum for its own 5G network.

    “At long last, we remove the burdensome restrictions on this band, allowing incumbents greater flexibility in their use of the spectrum and introduce a spectrum auction that will ensure that this public resource is finally devoted to its highest-valued use,” added Pai.

    The FCC also hopes that relaxing the rules will help the US meet its ambitious 5G strategy of establishing itself as the world leader. Under the new rules, the FCC will auction 2.5GHz spectrum directly to operators.


Comments are closed.