The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is requesting input from the public on new technological approaches to assessing “real-time, non-Federal (government) spectrum usage, so that it has better insights into current technologies that might help the agency to manage spectrum and identify opportunities for spectrum sharing—including how artificial intelligence (AI) might be used.
This FCC Notice of Inquiry (NOI) was approved by all four members of the Commission. It states:
“Spectrum usage information is generally non-public and made available infrequently. As the radiofrequency (RF) environment grows more congested, however, we anticipate a greater need to consider such data to improve spectrum management. That is especially true as the burgeoning growth of machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) offer revolutionary insights into large and complex datasets. Leveraging today’s tools to understand tomorrow’s commercial spectrum usage can help identify new opportunities to facilitate more efficient spectrum use, including
new spectrum sharing techniques and approaches to enable co-existence among users and services.”
Spectrum usage has been defined in various ways. In one technical paper, for instance, NTIA and NIST defined “band occupancy” as “the percentage of frequencies or channels in the band with a detected signal level that exceeds a default or user-defined threshold.”
“Right now, so many of our commercial spectrum bands are growing crowded,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “Hundreds of millions of wireless connections—from smartphones to medical sensors—are using this invisible infrastructure. And that number is growing fast. But congestion can make it harder to make room in our skies for new technologies and new services. Yet we have to find a way, because no one wants innovation to grind to a halt. To do this we need smarter policies, like efforts that facilitate more efficient use of this scarce resource. … Now enter AI. A large wireless provider’s network can generate several million performance measurements every minute. Using those measurements, machine learning can provide insights that help better understand network usage, support greater spectrum efficiency, and improve resiliency by making it possible to heal networks on their own.”
“[This] inquiry is a way to understand this kind of potential and help ensure it develops here in the United States first. “I believe we can do more to increase our understanding of spectrum utilization and support the development of AI tools in wireless networks,” she added.
Rosenworcel noted that some pioneering work on dynamic, cognitive radios was kick-started with the Defense Advanced Research Project’s three-year Spectrum Collaboration Challenge, which sought to develop software-defined radios’ capability to dynamically detect other spectrum users and work around them in a congested radio frequency environment.
The FCC pointed out in a statement that it generally doesn’t collect information on spectrum usage, and instead relies on intermittent data from third-party sources.
“As the radiofrequency environment becomes more congested, leveraging technologies such as artificial intelligence to understand spectrum usage and draw insights from large and complex datasets can help facilitate more efficient spectrum use, including new spectrum sharing techniques and approaches to enable co-existence among users and services,” the agency said, adding that the inquiry will explore the “feasibility, benefits, and limitations” of various ways to understand non-federal spectrum usage, as well as band- or service-specific considerations and various technical, practical or legal aspects that should be considered.
The FCC voted Thursday to launch a proceeding to consider sharing models in 500 megahertz of spectrum in the 42 GHz band. The agency believes its examination could inform how the band might best be used —particularly by smaller wireless service providers— and provide guidance on future uses of sharing models in spectrum management.
FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, who just returned this week from a quick trip to Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt for an ITU meeting, said that when she took over at the FCC, she believed the agency had overinvested in millimeter wave (mmWave) auctions and done too little to bring mid-band spectrum to market. She set out to change that, launching auctions in the 3.45 GHz and 2.5 GHz bands.
“With those successful mid-band efforts in the rear-view mirror, we are now turning back to millimeter wave,” Rosenworcel said in prepared remarks. “But this time we want to consider something different. In the 42 GHz band we have 500 megahertz of greenfield airwaves with no federal or commercial incumbencies. So we are putting out ideas. We are exploring non-exclusive access models. This could entail using a technology-based sensing mechanism to help operators actively detect and avoid one another. It could involve non-exclusive nationwide licenses that leverage a database to facilitate coexistence. It could also entail site-based licensing. To get even more out of this effort we ask if our approaches could be combined with shared-used models in other spectrum bands, like the lower 37 GHz band.”
“Our goal here is to come up with a new model to lower barriers, encourage competition and maximize the opportunities in millimeter wave spectrum. In short, it’s time to be creative. I look forward to the record that develops—and then look forward to sharing our creativity with the world.”
A Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) is in effect where the FCC will build a record on the benefits and drawbacks of implementing a shared licensing approach in the 42 GHz band. The NPRM proposes licensing the 42 GHz band as five 100 megahertz channels and seeks comment on other aspects of implementing a shared licensing approach, including coordination mechanisms, buildout requirements and technical rules.
Michael Calabrese, director of Wireless Future, Open Technology Institute at New America, said his organization agrees that a shared licensing framework is the best use of the 42 GHz band, making this spectrum available to a wide range of fixed wireless ISPs, enterprises and other users.
“Coordinated sharing will be particularly powerful if the FCC adopts a common framework for the lower 37 and 42 GHz bands, giving operators as much as 1100 megahertz of bandwidth,” he said in a statement provided to Fierce. “Fixed wireless deployments are exploding, adding options and competition for high-capacity broadband at lower prices. As open access bands, wide-channel millimeter wave spectrum can fuel and accelerate this positive trend.”
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed a new regulatory framework meant to support collaboration between satellite and wireless terrestrial network operators. In a statement last week, the FCC noted it’s aiming to leverage the growth in space-based services to connect smartphone users in remote, unserved, and underserved areas. The FCC hopes to establish a more transparent process to support supplemental coverage from space.
Numerous such collaborations have launched recently, and the FCC seeks to establish clear and transparent processes to support supplemental coverage from space. Connecting consumers to essential wireless services where no terrestrial mobile service is available can be life-saving in remote locations and can open up innovative opportunities for consumers and businesses.
“We will not be successful in our effort to make … always-on connectivity available to everyone, everywhere if we limit ourselves to using only one technology. We are going to need it all—fiber networks, licensed terrestrial wireless systems, next-generation unlicensed technology, and satellite broadband,” said FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel, calling this type of seamless migration among networks the “Single Network Future.” She referenced the availability of emergency SMS service on smartphones via satellite and added, “We are starting to see direct satellite-to-smartphone communication move from sci-fi fantasy to real-world prospect. … For this innovation to have a chance to deliver at scale—and for us to move toward a full Single Network Future with more providers, in more spectrum bands, and a global footprint—regulators will need to develop frameworks that support its development.”
The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking’s suggested framework plans to see satellite operators collaborating with terrestrial service providers while being able to obtain FCC authorization to operate space stations on certain currently licensed, flexible-use spectrums allocated to terrestrial services. According to the FCC, it’s also looking to add a mobile-satellite service allocation on some terrestrial flexible-use bands.
“The FCC proposes allowing authorized non-geostationary orbit satellite operators to apply to access terrestrial spectrum if certain prerequisites are met, including a lease from the terrestrial licensee within a specified geographic area. A satellite operator could then serve a wireless provider’s customers should they need connectivity in remote areas, for example in the middle of the Chihuahuan Desert, Lake Michigan, the 100-Mile Wilderness, or the Uinta Mountains,” said the FCC in its statement.
The FCC will also seek comment on how this framework might best support access to emergency response systems like 911 and Wireless Emergency Alerts when a consumer is connected via supplemental coverage from space. The new proceeding will also seek to build a record on whether the framework can be extended to other bands, locations, and applications that might be supported by such collaborations.
“By providing clear rules, I believe we can kick start more innovation in the space economy while also expanding wireless coverage in remote, unserved, and underserved areas. We can make mobile dead zones a thing of the past. But even better, we have an opportunity to bring our spectrum policies into the future and move past the binary choices between mobile spectrum on the one hand or satellite spectrum on the other. That means we can reshape the airwave access debates of old and develop new ways to get more out of our spectrum resources,” Rosenworcel said.
Satellite to smartphone connectivity is expected to be crucial for emergency response systems, with the FCC noting that it is seeking input from the emergency services on how its new framework can best support these services. Companies such as SpaceX, Lynk, and AST SpaceMobile are prominent in this space.
- Apple provides emergency SOS services when it announced its iPhone 14, with the company working with Globalstar to provide satellite connectivity through emergency SOS via satellite.
- T-Mobile linked up with Elon Musk’s SpaceX to provide mobile signal connectivity from space, promising speeds of 2-4Mbps through Starlink satellites and eliminating dead zones, using T-Mobile’s mid-band spectrum.
- A number of telcos have recently penned satellite connectivity agreements with satellite operators including Vodafone, Globe, Zain, and TIM Brazil.
On Friday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) banned Huawei Technologies Co. and ZTE Corp. from selling electronics in the U.S. by regulators who say they pose a security risk, continuing a years-long effort to limit the reach of Chinese telecommunications companies into U.S. telecommunications networks.
The FCC also named connected-camera makers Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co. and Dahua Technology Co., as well as two-way radio manufacturer Hytera Communications Corp.
“The FCC is committed to protecting our national security by ensuring that untrustworthy communications equipment is not authorized for use within our borders, and we are continuing that work here,” Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a news release. “These new rules are an important part of our ongoing actions to protect the American people from national security threats involving telecommunications.”
“On March 12, 2021, we published the first-ever list of communications and services that pose an unacceptable risk to national security as required under the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act. This initial Covered List included equipment from the Chinese companies Huawei, ZTE, Hytera, Hikvision, and Dahua. Since then, we’ve added equipment and services from five additional entities. Last year I also proposed stricter data breach reporting rules and worked with the Department of State to improve how we coordinate national security issues related to submarine cable licenses.”
In the 4-0 vote, the FCC concluded the products pose a risk to data security. Past efforts to curb Chinese access include export controls to cut off key, sophisticated equipment and software. Recently US officials have weighed restrictions on TikTok over fears Chinese authorities could access US user data via the video sharing app.
“This is a culminating action,” said Klon Kitchen, a senior fellow at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute, a public-policy think tank. “Things that began under Trump are now being carried out. The Biden administration is continuing to turn the screws on these companies because the threat isn’t changing.”
Hikvision said its video security products “present no security threat to the United States and there is no technical or legal justification for the Federal Communications Commission’s decision.” The company said the ruling will “make it more harmful and more expensive for US small businesses, local authorities, school districts, and individual consumers to protect themselves, their homes, businesses and property.”
Huawei declined to comment, while Dahua, Hytera and ZTE didn’t respond to emails sent outside normal business hours in China.
The looming FCC move didn’t come up in the bilateral meeting between US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Indonesia last week, a US official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Biden did discuss technology issues more broadly with Xi and was clear that the US will continue to take action to protect its national security, the official said.
“This is the death knell for all of them for their US operations,” said Conor Healy, director of government research for the Bethlehem, Pennsylvania-based surveillance research group IPVM. “They won’t be able to introduce any new products into the US.”
Dahua and Hikvision stand to be affected most since their cameras are widely used, often by government agencies with many facilities to monitor, Healy said. Agencies including police also use handheld Hytera radios, he said.
In its order, the FCC also asked for comment on whether to revoke existing equipment authorization, Rosenworcel said in an online statement.
According to Healy, merchants could be stuck with gear that’s illegal to sell.
In 2018, Congress voted to stop federal agencies from buying gear from the five companies named by the FCC. The agency said earlier that the companies aren’t eligible to receive federal subsidies, and also has barred Chinese phone companies from doing business in the U.S.
The order released Friday was required under the Secure Equipment Act – a bill President Biden signed into law on November 2021.
The big picture: Huawei and ZTE are two of the world’s biggest suppliers of telecom equipment.
- Countries including Canada, Britain and Australia have ramped up restrictions against the use of 5G technologies from Huawei and ZTE in recent years.
- Huawei executives have previously said the company does not give data to the Chinese government and that its equipment is not compromised.
- The company’s chief security officer Andy Purdy has also argued that a ban would hurt American jobs because it spends over $11 billion a year from American suppliers.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has set up a new bureau dedicated to improving the agency’s oversight of the satellite industry. It is one of two new offices to come out of an internal reorganization at the FCC, which has also created a standalone office of international affairs.
According to the FCC, the changes will help the agency fulfill its statutory obligations and to keep pace with the rapidly changing satellite industry and global communications policy. Establishing a standalone Space Bureau will elevate the importance of satellite programs and policy internally, and will also acknowledge the role of satellite communications in advancing domestic communications policy, according to the agency.
“The satellite industry is growing at a record pace, but here on the ground our regulatory frameworks for licensing them have not kept up. Over the past two years the agency has received applications for 64,000 new satellites. In addition, we are seeing new commercial models, new players, and new technologies coming together to pioneer a wide-range of new satellite services and space-based activities that need access to wireless airwaves,” said FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel in her prepared remarks.
After identifying space tourism, satellite broadband, disaster recovery efforts and more, Rosenworcel said the interest in space as a new market for investment and a home for new kinds of services is vast. She noted that “private investment in space companies has reached more than $10 billion in the last year, the highest it has ever been.”
She also said that “the space sector has been on a monumental run. Satellite operators set a new record last year for the number of satellites launched into orbit, a record they will surpass again.”
Under the Communications Act of 1934, the FCC licenses radio frequency uses by satellites and ensures that space systems reviewed by the agency have sufficient plans to mitigate orbital debris.
The FCC said also that creating the two new separate offices will allow expertise to be more consistently leveraged across the organization’s different bureaus.
Commenting on the reorganization, FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel said: “The satellite industry is growing at a record pace, but here on the ground our regulatory frameworks for licensing them have not kept up. Over the past two years, the agency has received applications for 64,000 new satellites. In addition, we are seeing new commercial models, new players, and new technologies coming together to pioneer a wide-range of new satellite services and space-based activities that need access to wireless airwaves.”
“Today, I announced a plan to build on this success and prepare for what comes next,” she added. “A new Space Bureau at the FCC will ensure that the agency’s resources are appropriately aligned to fulfill its statutory obligations, improve its coordination across the federal government, and support the 21st century satellite industry.”
Jennifer Warren, VP of technology, policy and regulation at Lockheed Martin, said during a panel following Rosenworcel’s announcement that the stakes are much bigger than broadband satellite launches. This new regulatory framework can clear the way for the US to be a leader in “the commercialization of space,” she said. “It’s not for the faint-hearted.”
The FCC bureau reorg “also gives encouragement to new space actors that there will be staff accessible to answer the many questions they must have as they try to enter this exciting industry,” according to Julie Zoller, Head of Global Regulatory Affairs, Project Kuiper at Amazon. “It’s a complex process, but it is one that is full of opportunity and benefits to consumers, as Chairwoman Rosenworcel mentioned. The number of broadband satellite systems is really supercharging the ability to bridge the digital divide curve at home and abroad.”
FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel’s announcement on Monday that the FCC will launch a notice of inquiry on 12.7-13.25 GHz was a surprise to advocates of using 12.2-12.7 for 5G, but doesn’t necessarily have negative implications for a long-awaited order on the lower part of the spectrum range. Supporters of 5G in 12-2-12.7 GHz see it as a positive that Rosenworcel acknowledged that 12 GHz is mid-band spectrum, which the administration identified as critical to 5G. Some refer to the upper section as 13 GHz to avoid confusion with work on the ongoing 12 GHz band.
Rosenworcel said the country needs more mid-band spectrum in the pipeline. “We need to keep up our efforts to find more airwaves to fuel the mid-band spectrum pipeline, following our successful auctions of the 3.45 and 2.5 GHz bands … these are the airwaves that are essential for 5G services to reach everyone, everywhere.”
The most substantial objections are likely to come from broadcasters, though fixed service, satellite and other links are in the band.
NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) was surprised by Rosenworcel’s announcement and hadn’t received any indications from the agency before the speech that it was looking to the 13GHz band, said Robert Weller, Vice President-Spectrum Policy in an interview.
“We’re awaiting the NOI,” he said. TV stations use the band for fixed length transmissions from studio to transmitter, and for relays and electronic newsgathering, he said. “Records at the @FCC show 1,989 broadcast auxiliary authorizations in this band, including 400 ENG authorizations,” Weller tweeted Tuesday.
“The NOI (Notice of Inquiry), if adopted, would provide an opportunity for all stakeholders to provide information and views well in advance of any policy proposal,” said an FCC spokesperson.
“The FCC, on a bipartisan basis, recognizes we need more mid-band spectrum freed up for 5G,” said an industry expert active in the proceeding.
A top DOD official noted the difficulty of clearing the 3.1-3.45 GHz band, the top candidate band for 5G, experts said. They predicted analysis of the 13 GHz band would likely take several years.
“While certainly giving credit for recognizing the need to act on new commercial mid-band spectrum, the focus on the upper 12 GHz is a bit puzzling because an NOI could take years and lower 12 GHz is essentially ready to go,” former Commissioner Mike O’Rielly told us. “I have to hope yesterday’s announcement is part of a multipronged band identification and reallocation effort to be released soon, coupled with definitive action on lower 12 and lower 3 GHz,” he said. “The only mid-band spectrum that is available to be put to use quickly is 12.2 to 12.7,” said Jeff Blum, Dish Network executive vice president-external and legislative affairs. “We continue to urge the FCC to unleash that band for 5G to help Dish compete in the wireless market while protecting incumbent operations from harmful interference,” he told us. “It’s very encouraging for us in the 12 GHz band to see the commission recognizing the value of bringing mid-band spectrum in the 7-16 GHz range to the U.S.’s spectrum pipeline,” said RS Access CEO Noah Campbell. The lower 12 GHz band “is very unique, and it’s very important for continued U.S. 5G leadership,” he said. “The opportunity to create a 1,000 MHz block between 12.2 and 13.2 is extremely compelling,” he said.
The Rosenworcel comments show the FCC won’t act before it’s ready on 12 GHz, said Digital Progress Institute President Joel Thayer. “The chairwoman is standing with the FCC’s engineers and not bending to political pressure,” he said. “This proceeding has been unnecessarily politicized and this move sends a clear message that the engineering and FCC procedure will be the determining factor here, not corporate lobbying.” In a white paper last year, IEEE said the 13 GHz band “could be considered as a future candidate for unlicensed use due to its allocation to the same types of incumbents as the recently opened 6 GHz band.” IEEE found little interference risk. “The demand for unlicensed spectrum will continue to increase in the next years, it is necessary to study potential new bands to accommodate new technologies and services in the mid-band spectrum,” the report said.
We’ve posted two articles on the battle for 12 GHz spectrum policy (see References below). It’s important that the FCC is proposing 12GHz for 5G despite that frequency band NOT included in revision 6 of ITU M.1036 Frequency Arrangements for IMT (and in particular for 5G).
Today, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) confirmed that its first data collection window for the broadband serviceable location fabric has closed. The agency also said it is targeting November 2022 for a public release of a first draft of the new map.
“For the first time ever, we have collected extensive location-by-location data on precisely where broadband services are available, and now we are ready to get to work and start developing new and improved broadband maps,” wrote Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in a note on Friday afternoon. This comes after FCC work over the past 18 months to update and improve their broadband maps.
What’s next for the FCC’s broadband maps:
- FCC is targeting November 2022 for release of the first draft of the map.
- The Fabric challenge process will begin in 10 days.
- The Fabric is the first-ever national dataset capturing individual locations that should have fixed broadband service availability. It is the product of integrating multiple data sources for each state and territory—in other words, hundreds of data sources. These data sources include, among other things, address records, tax assessment records, imagery and building footprints, Census data, land use records, parcel boundaries, and geo-spatial road and street data. Our old broadband maps, in contrast, lacked any of this location-specific information.
- Broadband providers reported their own availability data to the locations identified in the Fabric.
- The FCC is continually working to improve our Fabric through additional data sources, such as LIDAR data and new satellite and aerial imagery sources, as they become available and through our upcoming challenge processes.
- States, local governments, Tribal governments, and providers can now access the initial Fabric data, and, in 10 days we will open up a window for them to challenge this data.
In a public notice, the FCC set some parameters for that process, writing: “We remind governments, service providers, and other entities and organizations planning to submit challenges that the Fabric is intended to identify BSLs as defined by the Commission, which will not necessarily include all structures at a particular location or parcel.” The FCC will host a webinar on September 7, at 2 p.m. ET, “to assist state, local, and Tribal governments, service providers, and other entities who intend to submit bulk challenges, or proposed corrections, to the location data in the Fabric,” it said.
Once the maps are released, FCC will open a process for the public and other stakeholders to make challenges directly through the map interface.
Looking ahead, there’s one more important thing to note about the new maps. When the first draft is released, it will provide a far more accurate picture of broadband availability in the United States than our old maps ever did. That’s worth celebrating. But our work will in no way be done. That’s because these maps are iterative. They are designed to updated, refined, and improved over time.
Broadband providers are constantly updating and expanding their networks. We have set up a process to make sure our maps will reflect these changes and yield more precise data over time. We have also built a process in which state, local and Tribal governments, other third parties and, perhaps most importantly, consumers, will be able to give us feedback on the maps and help us continually improve and refine the data we receive from providers. All of this will require persistent effort—from the agency, providers, and other stakeholders. The Commission is committed to doing this hard work and keeping the public informed of our efforts every step of the way.
Here’s the most current broadband map for Santa Clara County, CA (oven referred to as Silicon Valley and previously as the Valley of Hearts Delight):
The FCC has announced that over $640 million of funding will be made available through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. The investment will be used for new broadband deployments in 26 states and will cover nearly 250,000 locations.
The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund has already provided over $4.7B in Broadband funding for nearly 300 carriers in 47 states serving over 2.6M U.S. locations.
On January 30, 2020, the Commission adopted the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Report and Order, which establishes the framework for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, building on the success of the CAF Phase II auction by using reverse auctions in two phases. The Phase I auction, which began on October 29, 2020, and ended on November 25, 2020, awarded support to bring broadband to over five million homes and businesses in census blocks that were entirely unserved by voice and broadband with download speeds of at least 25 Mbps. Phase II will cover locations in census blocks that are partially served, as well as locations not funded in Phase I. The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund will ensure that networks stand the test of time by prioritizing higher network speeds and lower latency, so that those benefitting from these networks will be able to use tomorrow’s Internet applications as well as today’s.
- Sending letters to 197 applicants concerning areas where there was evidence of existing service or questions of waste. Bidders have already chosen not to pursue support in approximately 5,000 census blocks in response to the Commission’s letters.
- Denying waivers for winning bidders that have not made appropriate efforts to secure state approvals or prosecute their applications. These bidders would have otherwise received approximately $350 million.
- Conducting an exhaustive technical, financial, and legal review of all winning bidders.
- A list of the eligible census blocks covered by the winning bids announced today is available under the “Results” tab.
- For a list of RDOF providers and funding amounts by state is at: https://www.fcc.gov/auction/904.
March 25th Update:
The FCC has authorized more than $313 million through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to finance new broadband deployments in 19 states bringing service to over 130,000 locations. This is the eighth round of funding in the program, which to date has provided over $5 billion in funding for new deployments in 47 states to bring broadband to over 2.8 million locations.
“The funding announced today will help hundreds of thousands of Americans get access to high-speed, reliable broadband service,” said Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “We continue our expanded oversight of this program through the Rural Broadband Accountability Plan to make sure that applicants deliver services as promised to areas that truly need help.”
The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund aims to fund new broadband deployments in areas across the U.S. with limited or no connectivity.
The winning bidders from the latest round are:
- Carolina Telephone and Telegraph
- Central Telephone Company of Virginia
- Central Virginia Services
- CenturyLink of Louisiana
- CenturyTel of Alabama
- CenturyTel of Michigan
- CenturyTel of Montana
- CenturyTel of Northwest Arkansas
- CenturyTel of the Midwest – Wisconsin
- CenturyTel of Washington
- Co-Mo Comm
- Columbia Fiber
- Embarq Florida
- Jasper County Rural Electric Membership Corporation
- LigTel Communications
- Qwest Corporation
- South Central ConnectSpectra Communications Group
- Tri-County Electric Cooperative
The results of the FCC’s 3.45 GHz auction were announced today. On January 4, 2022, bidding in Auction 110—the auction of new flexible-use licenses in the 3.45–3.55 GHz band—concluded following the close of bidding in the assignment phase.1 Auction 110 raised a total of $22,418,284,236 in net bids and $22,513,601,811 in gross bids, with 23 bidders winning a total of 4,041 licenses.
With $22.5 billion in gross proceeds, Auction 110 was the third highest grossing auction in the FCC’s history.
The 3.45 GHz action makes available 100 megahertz of mid-band spectrum for commercial use across the contiguous United States. Licensees can use it for fixed or mobile uses.
Here are the big winners:
- AT&T: $9.1B
- Dish: $7.3B
- T-Mobile: $2.9B
AT&T won 1,624 licenses in the 3.45 GHz auction, and Dish, bidding under the name Weminuche LLC, won 1,232 licenses. US Cellular acquired 380 licenses, followed by Cherry Wireless LCC with 319. T-Mobile acquired 199 licenses. Meanwhile, Verizon bid =ZERO.
The remainder went to a relatively familiar list of private equity investors, including Grain Capital, Columbia Capital, and Charlie Townsend’s Bluewater Wireless. Here’s the complete list of bidders:
|Bidder||Bidding entity||Winning bids||Licenses won|
|AT&T||AT&T Auction Holdings, LLC||$9 billion||1,624|
|Dish Network||Weminuche L.L.C.||$7.3 billion||1,232|
|T-Mobile||T-Mobile License LLC||$2.9 billion||199|
|Columbia Capital||Three Forty-Five Spectrum, LLC||$1.4 billion||18|
|Uscellular||United States Cellular Corporation||$580 million||380|
|Whitewater Wireless II, L.P.||$428 million||14|
|Grain Management||NewLevel III, L.P. 0||$376 million||8|
|Moise Advisory||Cherry Wireless, LLC||$211 million||319|
|N Squared Wireless, LLC||$101.8 million||55|
|Skylake Wireless II, LLC||$39 million||57|
|Blue Ridge Wireless LLC||$8.9 million||39|
|Agri-Valley Communications||Agri-Valley Communications||$8 million||7|
|LICT||LICT Wireless Broadband Company, LLC||$7.7 million||24|
|Viaero||NE Colorado Cellular, Inc.||$6.7 million||18|
|Nsight||Nsight Spectrum, LLC||$4.7 million||6|
|East Kentucky Network||East Kentucky Network, LLC||$4.4 million||2|
|Carolina West Wireless||Carolina West Wireless, Inc.||$3.8 million||11|
|PVT||PVT Networks, Inc.||$2 million||6|
|Chat Mobility||RSA 1 Limited Partnership||$1.7 million||1|
|Raptor Wireless LLC||$845,700||6|
|Horry Telephone||Horry Telephone||$88,060||12|
|Jones, Anthony L||$1,575||2|
|Bidder identity included where available. Source: FCC|
The results were pretty much as expected- Dish spent more than expected, and AT&T a bit less, but in rank order and in magnitude, the numbers were relatively close to expectations.
Credit: Getty Images
The “mid-band spectrum” that was auctioned off is considered crucial for mobile operators’ deployment of next generation of wireless service such as 5G, which promises to deliver much faster wireless service and a more responsive network. Mid-band spectrum provides more-balanced coverage and capacity due to its ability to cover a several-mile radius with 5G, despite needing more cell sites than lower-tiered spectrum bands. Its ability to connect more devices and offer real-time feedback is expected to spark a sea change in how we live and work, ushering in new advances like self-driving cars and advanced augmented reality experiences.
“Today’s 3.45 GHz auction results demonstrate that the Commission’s pivot to mid-band spectrum for 5G was the right move,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “I am pleased to see that this auction also is creating opportunities for a wider variety of competitors, including small businesses and rural service providers. This is a direct result of the Commission’s efforts to structure this auction with diversity and competition front of mind.”
Craig Moffett wrote in a note to clients shortly after the auction results were announced by the FCC:
“After the almost $100B spent on the C-Band auction [1.], these numbers might sound almost quaint. Still, AT&T’s $9B translates to nearly a quarter turn of additional leverage. And for Dish Network, it is roughly two years of EBITDA, or two full turns. As always, spending money on spectrum is only the beginning. Now starts the spending on putting the new spectrum to work. The carriers did not pay up for this spectrum to allow it to languish in a fallow state, and the Towers will be natural beneficiaries of the deployment process over the coming years. Carrier plans for the C-Band suggest that spectrum will ultimately be deployed in a fairly broad-based manner, rather than just in more densely populated areas of the country, and a similar result seems likely for this spectrum, given its broadly similar propagation attributes.”
Note 1. The C-band auction broke records with its $81.2 billion in gross proceeds.
Analysts at New Street Research thought T-Mobile was going to win more spectrum than it did. They were predicting T-Mobile to spend in the range of $6.6 billion and Dish to spend about $5 billion. The FCC is planning for even more auctions in the future.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) today adopted a Notice of Inquiry to start a formal discussion on the opportunities and potential challenges presented by open and virtualized radio access networks (RANs), and how the FCC might leverage these concepts to support network security and 5G leadership.
The FCC seeks comment on the current status of development and deployment, whether and how the FCC might foster the success of these technologies, and how to support competitiveness and new entrant access to this emerging market.
The Open Radio Access Networks (Open RAN) concept promotes the use of open interface
specifications (not standards as the FCC incorrectly stated) in the portion of the telecommunications network that connects wireless devices—like mobile phones—to the core of the network.
This can be implemented in vendor-neutral hardware and software-defined technology based on open interfaces and standards. In addition, Open RAN allows disaggregation of the radio access network, which can enable the use of interchangeable technologies that promote network security and public safety. The FCC is seeking input from academics, industry, and the public on what steps are required to deploy Open RAN networks broadly and at scale.
The Notice of Inquiry (NOI) seeks comment on the current status of Open RAN development and deployment in networks in the U.S. and abroad. It asks about the role of established large manufacturers and new entrants in setting standards for this new network architecture. It seeks input on what steps should be taken by the FCC, federal partners, industry, academia, and others to accelerate the timeline for Open RAN standards development. Further, it seeks comment on any challenges or other considerations related to the deployment, integration, and testing of systems based on Open RAN specifications. The NOI also requests comment on the costs and benefits associated with Open RAN development and deployment.
The FCC’s Technological Advisory Committee, a group of industry representatives that provides technical advice to the Commission, recently recommended that the Commission encourage the development of the Open RAN ecosystem by supporting Open RAN innovation, standardization, testing, and security and reliability. The Commission also hosted a Forum on 5G Open Radio Access Networks in September 2020.
This Notice of Inquiry seeks input on the status of Open RAN and virtualized network environments: where the technology is today and what steps are required to deploy Open RAN networks broadly and at scale. It also seeks comment on whether and, if so, how deployment of Open RAN-compliant networks could further the Commission’s policy goals and statutory obligations, advance legislative priorities, and benefit American consumers by making state-of-the-art wireless broadband available more quickly and to more people in more parts of the country.
What the Notice of Inquiry Would Do:
- Describe the relationship of recent government action to Open RAN development, including through Commission and other U.S. government action, legislative developments, and international activity.
- Seek comment on the current status of Open RAN development and deployment domestically and internationally.
- Seek comment on potential public interest benefits in promoting Open RAN development and deployment, including increased competition, network vendor diversity, affordability for consumers, network security and public safety, and other potential benefits.
- Seek comment on additional considerations regarding Open RAN development and deployment, including potential software vulnerabilities or risks posed by a virtualized operating environment. o Seek comment on barriers to Open RAN development and deployment and whether and what Commission efforts could be undertaken to promote Open RAN development and deployment.
- Seek comment on how the Commission can collaborate with and/or leverage ongoing Open RAN research and development activities in academia and other federal agencies.
- Discuss and seek comment on the costs and benefits of Open RAN deployment.
Diagram courtesy of TIP Open RAN Project
It’s important to note that there is no Open RAN work ongoing within SDOs like ITU-R, ITU-T, ETSI or IEEE. Nor is there any Open RAN activity within 3GPP. Instead, there are three consortia/forums that are working on Open RAN specifications and market awareness. They are: O-RAN Alliance, TIP Open RAN project and GSMA which will surely be the marketing arm for this technology.
In addition, there are several consortiums in the U.S., Europe, and Asia that are trying to promote Open RAN technology.
In the U.S., the Open RAN Policy Coalition “represents a group of companies formed to promote policies that will advance the adoption of open and interoperable solutions in the Radio Access Network (RAN) as a means to create innovation, spur competition and expand the supply chain for advanced wireless technologies including 5G.”
“Coalition members believe that by standardizing or “opening” the protocols and interfaces between the various subcomponents (radios, hardware and software) in the RAN, we move to an environment where networks can be deployed with a more modular design without being dependent upon a single vendor.”
The above statement is quite strange, considering that 1) There is NO ongoing standardization work on Open RAN (consortiums produce specs but NOT standards) and 2) An “open” network should not exclude vendors (e.g. Huawei, ZTE) or cause vendor lock-in.
However, it seems vendor lock-in is how Open RAN technology is being deployed today with various vendors and operators banding together to offer Open RAN technology solutions. Some examples of that include:
- Rakuten-NEC “RCS” which has been endorsed by Telefonica and supposedly sold to 15 network operators.
- Mavenir, a U.S. based software developer, has teamed up with MTI, a Taiwanese maker of radio units.
- Parallel Wireless, a Mavenir rival, has a similar partnership with China’s Comba.
- NTT DoCoMo’s open RAN ecosystem includes some prominent names in the IT and telecom sectors, such as Dell, Fujitsu, Intel, Mavenir, NEC, Nvidia, Qualcomm, Red Hat, VMware, Wind River and Xilinx.
- Telefonica, Deutsche Telekom, Orange and Vodafone pledged in a MoU to back Open RAN systems that take advantage of new open virtualized architectures, software and hardware with a view to enhancing the flexibility, efficiency and security of European networks in the 5G era.
Light Reading’s Iain Morris coined the term “Vendor Lock-in 2.0.” He says that Open RAN deployment is all about trading one form of vendor lock-in for another, as depicted in this illustration, courtesy of Light Reading:
Market research firm Omdia’s view is that “preferred partnerships” will take shape between software developers and hardware manufacturers. Its latest forecast is that open and “virtualized” radio access network products will account for roughly 9% of the total market by the end of 2024, up from just 1% in 2020.
However, rather than encouraging new RAN companies, Omdia believes the big five – Huawei, Ericsson, Nokia, ZTE and Samsung – will “probably seize the majority” of this business. The challengers, it says, simply “cannot achieve the same economies of scale as the incumbents.”