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.”
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said today that it will make mid-band spectrum in the 3.45-3.55 GHz band available for auction to facilitate 5G deployment across the U.S. The FCC consulted last year on allowing flexible use of the 3.45-3.55 GHz band. The latest action means the FCC is on track for a 5G mid-band auction this year. Bidding in FCC Auction 110 is expected to begin in early October 2021.
Auction 110 will offer up to 100 megahertz of spectrum divided into ten 10-megahertz blocks licensed by geographic areas known as Partial Economic Areas (PEAs), for a total of 4,060 flexible-use licenses across the contiguous United States. The proposed auction procedures would include a clock phase for bidding on generic blocks in each geographic area followed by an assignment phase for bidding on frequency-specific license assignments. The Public Notice proposes bidding credit caps and specific upfront payment and minimum opening bid amounts. Flexible-use licenses made available through this auction are subject to cooperative sharing requirements to protect federal incumbents, so the Public Notice proposes a reserve price of over $14.7 billion in order to meet the requirement that auction proceeds cover the expected sharing and relocation costs for federal users in the band.
Today’s Public Notice works in concert with new rules for the 3.45 GHz band that were also adopted today, establishing a framework for coordination of non-federal and federal use and establishing a band plan. In legislation passed last year, Congress required the Commission to commence a system of competitive bidding for licenses in the 3.45 GHz band by the end of 2021. Today’s actions position the Commission to fulfill that mandate.
Last year’s Consolidated Appropriations Act required the commission to start an auction for licenses in the 3.45-3.55 GHz band by the end of 2021. The rules now adopted will reallocate 100 MHz of spectrum in the 3.45 GHz band for flexible use wireless services.
The FCC also established a framework for the 3.45 GHz band which will enable commercial use by different cellular network providers, while also ensuring that federal incumbents are protected from interference. Together, the 3.45 GHz band and the neighboring 3.5 GHz and 3.7 GHz bands represent 530 MHz of contiguous mid-band spectrum for 5G.
The FCC is now inviting comments on procedures for the auction of 100 MHZ of mid-band spectrum in the 3.45–3.55 GHz. Bidding in Auction 110 is expected to start in early October.
Separately, the FCC Seeks Comment on Open Radio Access Networks, which we cover in a companion post.
Speaking at the Americas Spectrum Management Conference on October 12th, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai assessed the Commission’s 5G Fast Plan and highlighted the importance of this December’s C-Band auction for 5G spectrum.
Pai said the 5G Fast Plan, introduced in 2018, had three central planks: freeing up spectrum, promoting wireless infrastructure, and modernizing our regulations to encourage more fiber deployment. Pai said the FCC has been freeing up high-, mid-, and low-band spectrum for 5G:
High-band spectrum enables ultra-high-speed, gigabit-plus wireless connectivity. Last year, the FCC successfully concluded our nation’s first two auctions of millimeter-wave spectrum for 5G services, in the 28 GHz and 24 GHz bands, respectively. Earlier this year, we concluded bidding in an auction of the upper 37 GHz, 39 GHz, and 47 GHz spectrum bands. This was the largest auction in American history, releasing 3,400 megahertz of spectrum into the commercial marketplace.
All told, we’ve made available almost five gigahertz of high-band spectrum for commercial use though these auctions. To put that in perspective, that was more spectrum than was used before for terrestrial mobile broadband by all wireless service providers in the United States combined.
With respect to low-band spectrum, we’ve finished repurposing spectrum in the 600 MHz band, which was long used for broadcast television, for mobile broadband. To clear the 600 MHz band spectrum for wireless use, roughly half of our nation’s broadcast TV stations—nearly 1,000 total—had to change their transmission frequencies. This summer, we completed this enormous undertaking—known as the “repack.” Now, all of the valuable low-band airwaves sold in the ground-breaking broadcast incentive auction are available for wireless broadband service, and this spectrum is already being used to provide 5G service to areas where over 200 million Americans live.
Pai said the FCC has made the most headway on mid-band spectrum. Mid-band spectrum is appealing for 5G largely because of physics: it combines good geographic coverage with good capacity. The FCC chairman claims the commission has systematically identified mid-band airwaves that were being underused and set plans to put these airwaves to work for the American people.
The FCC also targeted rule changes to bring the 3.5 GHz band into commercial use. The rules for this band had not been optimized to encourage 5G deployment. But with the leadership of FCC Commissioner O’Rielly, new rules were promulgate to promote investment in the band. This August, the Commission successfully completed an auction of 70 megahertz of licensed spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band—the first-ever auction of mid-band spectrum for 5G. And we’ve completed the necessary technical work so that the band’s entire 150 megahertz is now available for commercial use.
Pai said the biggest move to free up mid-band spectrum for 5G is in the swath of spectrum from 3.7 GHz to 4.2 GHz—what is referred to as the C-band. This spectrum is mostly used by fixed-satellite companies to beam content to video and audio broadcasters, cable systems, and other content distributors. However, with advances in technology, these companies can now provide the same services using alternative technologies or considerably less spectrum.
This past February, the FCC voted to clear the lower 300 megahertz of the C-band and make 280 megahertz of this spectrum available for 5G through a public auction. All eligible space station operators currently using this spectrum have committed to an accelerated relocation to the upper 200 megahertz of the C-band—meaning that the lower 280 megahertz will become available for 5G two to four years earlier than otherwise would have been the case. The FCC will begin the auction of the lower 280 megahertz of the C-band on December 8th.
And just a couple weeks ago, at our September meeting, the Commission proposed to make the 3.45-3.55 GHz band available for innovative commercial operations while accommodating limited remaining operations by federal incumbents. This action follows through on the White House and the Defense Department’s August announcement that this 100 megahertz of contiguous mid-band spectrum should be made available for 5G as quickly as possible. I am optimistic that we will be able to auction the 3.45 GHz band next year.
The bottom line of all these mid-band efforts is this: With the aforementioned auctions of the C-band, the 3.5 GHz band, and a 2021 auction of the 3.45 GHz band, the FCC is on a path to have a contiguous 530-megahertz swath—from 3.45 to 3.98 GHz—of mid-band spectrum available for 5G.
GSA: “Global regulators have sought to open up access to the C-band, which has become (initially at least) the most important spectrum band for 5G.”
Pai asserts that he has presided over the most aggressive FCC in history when it comes to spectrum. He claims that the FCC has been similarly productive on the other two planks of 5G FAST PLAN: promoting wireless infrastructure and modernizing our regulations to encourage more fiber deployment.
For example, the number of new cell sites in the United States has skyrocketed. We added fewer than 7,000 cell sites from 2013 to 2016, but added over 87,000 from 2016 to 2019, with an increase of over 46,000 in 2019 alone. He said that the FCC is focused on the integrity of the communications supply chain—the process by which products and services are manufactured, distributed, sold, and ultimately integrated into our communications networks.
Comment and Analysis on the C-band auction:
Analysts at Morgan Stanley Research raised their C-band mid-point auction forecasts from $23.5 billion in proceeds to about $26 billion, with their high-end estimates at $35.2 billion. The firm cited a relatively low turnout in the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) 3.5 GHz auction as a catalyst, as well as improved macro environment and supportive credit markets. The lower-than-expected turnout by big carriers in the CBRS auction indicates they’re likely saving their gun powder for the big C-band auction, which offers more unencumbered mid-band spectrum for 5G.
Former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said, “One of the challenges the FCC faces is that the allocation of spectrum was first made from analog assumptions that have been rewritten as a result of digital technology.” Consider the transition from analog to digital TV, where an analog TV signal took up 6MHz of spectrum and required guard bands on either side to avoid interference, four or five digital signals can fit into that one channel.
“I went through it with the [Department of Defense], with the satellite companies, and the fact of the matter is that one of the big regulatory challenges is that nobody wants to give up the nice secure position that they have based on analog assumptions,” said Wheeler. “I think you also have to pay serious consideration, but I found that claims of interference were the first refuge of people who didn’t like the threat of competition or anything else.”
“As we look at C-Band, it brings forward some use cases that could increase the size of the 5G opportunity for us,” Verizon CFO Matt Ellis said during a recent investor event. While Verizon has purchased billions of dollars worth of unused millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum for 5G, such spectrum isn’t suitable for covering large geographic areas because transmissions in such bands can only travel a few thousand feet in the best of conditions and requires line of sight communications (no trees, walls, buildings between cell site and mmWave end point subscriber),
Indeed, analyst Craig Moffett forecasts that Verizon will need to spend as much as $20B on spectrum in order to keep pace with T-Mobile, which currently enjoys a huge spectrum advantage by virtue of their 2.5 GHz spectrum. He says that even if Verizon acquires C-Band spectrum, its propagation shortcomings relative to T-Mobile’s 2.5 GHz spectrum suggest that Verizon will still be disadvantaged in either coverage or cost.
Craig believes that AT&T won’t be able to keep pace with Verizon’s bidding at the C-band auction. The New York Post reported that a sale of all of DirecTV (owned by AT&T) might yield less than what Verizon is expected to spend in the upcoming C-Band auction alone. Without a large block of mid-band spectrum to compete with T-Mobile and Verizon, AT&T’s Mobility segment could fall behind for a generation. Satellite-TV provider Dish Network, which is building out a 5G network, isn’t participating in the auction, according to several sources.
Cable companies (aka MSOs) joined Verizon and Dish Network among the top bidders in the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) latest auction of cellular spectrum licenses, according to FCC data released Wednesday. The FCC auction, which began on July 23 and wrapped up on August 25, offered 70 megahertz of Priority Access Licenses (PALs) in the 3550-3650 MHz band. In total, the FCC auction 105 generated $4,585,663,345 from 228 bidders who won a total of 20,625 licenses.
Verizon, the country’s largest cellphone carrier, topped the list with $1.89 billion in winning bids for licenses in the 3.55 gigahertz band, according to the commission.
- Dish unit Wetterhorn Wireless LLC bid about $913 million.
- Wireless units of Charter Communications Inc., Comcast Corp. and Cox Communications Inc. followed with winning bids of $464 million, $459 million and $213 million, respectively.
- Cellphone carrier T-Mobile US bid less than $6 million in the auction.
- AT&T did not bid.
The FCC said winning bidders have until September 17 to submit a down payment totaling 20 percent of their winning bid(s). Full payment is due by October 1, 2020.
The licenses were considered highly valuable (3.5GHz spectrum) but complicated by a sharing arrangement that allowed some companies to use nearby frequencies without an exclusive license. The military also uses the spectrum band, though radio engineers consider the likelihood of interference from naval radar low in most of the U.S.
Image Credit: FCC
A frequency coordinator called a Spectrum Access System (SAS) will assign the specific channel(s) for a particular licensee on a dynamic basis. Although a Priority Access Licensee may request a particular channel or frequency range from an SAS following the auction, they are not guaranteed a particular assignment, and an SAS may dynamically reassign a PAL to a different channel as needed to accommodate a higher priority Incumbent Access user. To the extent feasible, an SAS will “assign geographically contiguous PALs held by the same Priority Access Licensee to the same channels in each geographic area” and “assign multiple channels held by the same Priority Access Licensee to contiguous frequencies within the same License Area.” An SAS may, however, temporarily reassign individual PALs to non-contiguous channels to the extent necessary to protect incumbent users from harmful interference or if necessary, to perform its required functions.
Technicians installing a cellular base station. Photo credit: GEORGE FREY/REUTERS
Wireless-industry analysts expected Verizon and Dish to be active participants in the most recent auction, which offered 70 megahertz of “priority access” licenses in a band considered useful for ultrafast fifth-generation, or 5G, transmissions. Rival T-Mobile’s purchase of Sprint Corp. this year gave it a treasure trove of wireless licenses that led Verizon to play catch-up in the race to supply customers with more mobile internet data. Satellite-TV operator Dish has spent the past decade amassing its own spectrum licenses for a brand-new wireless network, though the system hasn’t been built.
The entry of regional cable operators suggests that residential broadband providers are eager to offer more service over the air. Charter and Comcast have added hundreds of thousands of smartphone customers over the past year, but their mobile service runs on Verizon’s network outside the home, limiting the cable companies’ profitability. Charter also has tested fixed home broadband service over 3.5 GHz frequencies to lower the cost of stringing wires to far-flung households.
The cable companies’ wireless bets pale next to their regular investments in landline infrastructure, and the latest bids are no guarantee their strategies will shift. Cable companies have made similar wagers on wireless service before withdrawing and selling their holdings back to established cellphone carriers.
The auction results also set the stage for a more expensive auction of C-Band spectrum, another swath of frequencies useful for 5G service. The commission is expected to kick off an auction for those spectrum bands in December.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted unanimously today to open up all of the 6 GHz band for unlicensed use, creating a new range of 1,200 MHz in the 5.925–7.125 (6 GHz) band for Wi-Fi services. This increases the amount of spectrum available for Wi-Fi by nearly a factor of five.
The 6 GHz band is currently used by microwave services such as wireless backhaul, utilities and public safety applications. Unlicensed devices will share this spectrum with the incumbent services under rules crafted to protect those licensed services, the FCC said.
The FCC’s decision authorizes indoor low-power operations over the full 1,200 MHz and standard-power devices in 850 MHz in the 6 GHz band. An automated frequency coordination system will prevent standard power access points from operating where they could cause interference to incumbent services.
In 850 MHz of the band, the FCC will allow standard power unlicensed use under an automated frequency control (AFC) system to protect incumbent users. The entire band can be used for indoor unlicensed use at very low power without AFC, and the FCC is proposing a new class of devices that can operate indoors and outdoors across the entire band.
Unlicensed WiFi Forward has said that opening up the GHz band. combined with the FCC’s plan to free up 5.9 GHz spectrum, also for unlicensed WiFi, will add at least $183.44 billion to the U.S. economy over the next five years.
Cable operators supported the proposal, while broadcasters argued for protecting the electronic news gathering (ENG) already using the band by reserving 80 MHz for them, saying there was too much risk of harmful interference to that even-more-crucial service in a time of pandemic.
- FCC commissioner Michael O’Rielly called it “a fantastic day for unlicensed services and the millions of Americans who use them.” He said that other than the 5.9 GHz slice, no other spectrum provided as great an opportunity given its proximity to the 5 GHz band that currently carries most of the WiFi load. He strongly disagreed with those who said unlicensed didn’t need the entire band. In addition to broadcasters wanting a sliver reserved for ENG, wireless companies had suggested auctioning some of the upper portion of the band for licensed use. “Today’s action is also very timely, as the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the importance of our WiFi systems in keeping those in isolation connected to the outside world,” he said.
- FCC chairman Ajit Pai noted the pandemic had changed nearly every aspect of daily lives, with WiFi allowing for distance learning and virtual telehealth, and “stream Tiger King on Netflix.” Pai said it was a bold step to increase the supply of WiFi spectrum, increasing midband spectrum for unlicensed by almost a factor of five. He said the item would help promote IoT but also insure incumbents are protected from harmful interference.
- FCC commissioner Brendan Carr said that the pandemic may give a sense of what trasnformative innovations freeing up that spectrum could unleash, including two-way video connections to help students and teachers interact or virtual reality shopping from the safety of home.
- FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said the pandemic has ushered in remote work as never before, and WiFi has never been more important. “[W]ith this decision on unlicensed spectrum we do well by the law, we add more permissionless airwaves to the wireless economy, and we expand the democratizing force of having more WiFi in more places,” she said, adding an “amen.”
- “Even for those who can’t afford the new equipment that will take advantage of the new spectrum and the latest iteration of WiFi, speeds for their devices should increase as existing WiFi traffic moves to the new spectrum,” said commissioner Geoffrey Starks. “Low-income consumers purchasing discounted broadband plans will realize the full benefits of their subscriptions, as the WiFi channels within their homes become less congested and data flows more freely. The new spectrum is also expected to spur new efforts by many broadband providers, retailers, restaurants, and others that offer free public WiFi access at hotspots across the nation.”
“Today the U.S. Federal Communications Commission forever altered the future of WiFi. Thanks to their action, a new generation of innovation is now possible,” said Scott Harwell, SVP at Cisco. “With today’s vote, the FCC authorized 1200 MHz of 6 GHz spectrum to be opened for indoor WiFi use. This is a bold action, taken with deep knowledge of both the technology trajectory of WiFi and demand from consumers and businesses alike. Bold action is needed, as we are all discovering as we work from home, learn from home, and play at home – and stream more video than ever before. Those of us who helped build WiFi and who are responsible for its future send congratulations and thanks to the FCC. We promise to make good use of this resource.”
The industry group has given equipment working in the 6 GHz band the designation Wi-Fi 6E (IEEE 802.11ax) and expects to have the first such devices certified in early 2021. The alliance said its members have been quick to embrace the new band, with initial forecasts expecting more than 316 million Wi-Fi 6E devices will enter the market next year.
The FCC also opened a consultation on a proposal to permit very low-power devices to operate across the 6 GHz band, in order to support high data rate applications such as wearables and mixed reality devices. The notice also seeks comment on increasing the power at which low-power indoor access points may operate.
“The FCC is aiming to increase the supply of Wi-Fi spectrum with our boldest initiative yet,” Pai said today, “making the entire 6GHz band available for unlicensed use. By doing this, we would effectively increase the amount of spectrum available for Wi-Fi almost by a factor of five.”
The FCC noted that Pai’s draft order initially contemplates two classes of wireless transmissions making use of the 6 GHz band: indoor, low-power operations could use any frequency range within the 1,200 MHz spectrum, while standard power transmissions will be able to access 850 MHz of spectrum, while keeping away from previously permitted 6 GHz users.
Collectively, the 6 GHz channels add over two times more capacity to the FCC’s existing 480 MHz allocation of 5GHz spectrum. They will also give WiFi routers the flexibility to choose between a greater range of additional frequencies. Apart from decongesting existing network environments, including dense housing where multiple users and devices are competing for limited 2.4GHz or 5GHz spectrum, the 6 GHz frequencies might be used for high data rate applications, without the need to rely on shorter-distance millimeter wave spectrum. The FCC said today that it will seek public comments on allowing “very low-power devices” to access the full 1,200MHz of spectrum for “high-performance, wearable, augmented-reality and virtual-reality devices.”
“From Wi-Fi routers to home appliances, Americans’ everyday use of devices that connect to the Internet over unlicensed spectrum has exploded,” said FCC Chairman Pai. “That trend will only continue. Cisco projects that nearly 60% of global mobile data traffic will be off-loaded to WiFi by 2022. To accommodate that increase in Wi-Fi demand, the FCC is aiming to increase the supply of Wi-Fi spectrum with our boldest initiative yet: making the entire 6 GHz band available for unlicensed use. By doing this, we would effectively increase the amount of spectrum available for Wi-Fi almost by a factor of five. This would be a huge benefit to consumers and innovators across the nation. It would be another step toward increasing the capacity of our country’s networks. And it would help advance even further our leadership in next generation wireless technologies, including 5G.”
Wi-Fi advocates say the bands currently used for Wi-Fi – the 2.4 and 5 GHz – do not offer enough to meet projected demands. They also say that the 6 GHz band offers super-wide channels, which are needed to carry traffic from a bunch of devices simultaneously, as well as to increase speed. Companies like Amazon, Facebook and Apple are eyeing the band for new devices, including wearables and wireless AR/VR headsets.
”Consumer advocates commend the FCC for its pathbreaking spectrum-sharing order,” said Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Project at New America’s Open Technology Institute, in a statement. “Opening the entire 6 GHz band for low-power, gigabit-fast Wi-Fi in every home, school, and enterprise will accelerate the availability and affordability of next-generation applications and services nationwide. Even the fastest fiber broadband internet service is useless for consumers without the Wi-Fi spectrum needed to connect all of our laptops, tablets, and smartphones.”
The Wi-Fi Alliance praised today’s FCC announcement while underscoring the growing importance of Wi-Fi. “Ensuring necessary unlicensed spectrum access is critical for Wi-Fi,” it said, “which now more than ever keeps us connected, supports our communications infrastructure, and delivers major economic benefits.”
While many Alliance members offered positive comments on the FCC news, Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf’s stood out as especially expansive regarding the 6 GHz spectrum’s potential.
“In February,we demonstrated a full suite of Wi-Fi 6E products ready to start using this large new swath of spectrum. We are also optimizing other exciting new technologies for this large swath of spectrum, including the next version of 5G and next generation Wi-Fi.”
A Qualcomm spokesperson noted that 5G NR-U will be optimized to take advantage of the “massive amount of spectrum” in the 6 GHz band.
As expected, the proposed re-allocation of spectrum is being opposed by broadcasters, utilities and other companies that currently use the airwaves in question, known as the 6 gigahertz band, for beaming video signals or monitoring electric grids.
T-Mobile US Inc. and other telecommunications wireless carriers would also lose out. They had hoped to win exclusive rights to some of the airwaves as they build out cellular 5G networks.
FCC approval isn’t guaranteed as a result of the April 23rd vote, but it’s likely, as three of the five commissioners — including Pai — tend to vote in lock step. The Wi-Fi Alliance has said that 6GHz-compatible WiFi 6 devices will be ready to go relatively quickly after approval is finalized.
“Once all the rules are in place, products can move relatively quickly,” Blair Levin, an analyst at New Street Research, wrote in a note to his firm’s clients this week about the expected FCC move.
Addendum – FCC Commissioner O’Rielly released the following statement on April 1st:
I am grateful that Chairman Pai has circulated an item to allow sharing between unlicensed services and incumbent providers in the 6 GHz band. Having worked for most of my professional career on unlicensed service issues and having taken on the lead advocate role for 6 GHz, I am extremely pleased that we have finally reached this point. It’s been a long and winding road.
Today’s item effectively concludes some of the substantive debates and will end some extraneous noise surrounding our approach. While I look forward to reading the specifics, it appears very consistent with my emphatic support for protecting incumbent users while permitting varied unlicensed services within the band.
Specifically, higher powered unlicensed services will be allowed in the band using a slimmed-down automated frequency coordination (AFC) regime, while low power indoor (LPI) use, which probably could use a closer review and improvements to its technical rules over the next couple weeks, will be allowed throughout the band without an AFC.
Although it initially settles on certain lower power limits for LPI use, the further notice will explore increasing these limits, as well as setting workable power limits and more specifics to effectuate very lower powered (VLP) unlicensed devices. “Over the last few years, I have heard from entrepreneurs and innovators discussing how dramatic the impact would be of unleashing such a large unlicensed allocation with seven 160 megahertz channels. I can’t wait to see, and use, the new services and ideas brought forward because of our work here.
Today’s action to permit all 1200 megahertz of the band to be used for unlicensed services means that proposals to license portions of the band were not accepted. I fully support this outcome, but I also remain fully committed to identifying other mid-bands for licensed services. Simply put, U.S. wireless providers must have more mid-band spectrum to meet consumer demand, and I will fight to refill the spectrum pipeline for future licensed wireless services.
This effort is absolutely vital to preserving U.S. leadership in wireless technology and to alleviate the demands being placed on existing networks. I firmly believe that the most likely candidate bands for this purpose are Federal spectrum allocations, such as the 3.1 to 3.55 GHz band, that can be converted to commercial use.
I look forward to discussing this draft with interested parties in the coming weeks, and I will go out on a limb to predict a unanimous vote from my colleagues.
April 23, 2020 UPDATE:
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) commenced its latest 5G mmWave spectrum auction today. This morning, Auction 103 bidding began on spectrum in the upper 37 GHz, 39 GHz, and 47 GHz bands. Auction 103 is the largest auction of millimeter wave spectrum the FCC has conducted. The Commission is making 3,400 MHz of millimeter-wave spectrum available through this auction. At the end of the day there were $715,333,400 in second round bids at Auction 103, which had two rounds of bidding on Tuesday. It’s moving to three rounds on Wednesday. Real-time results from the auction are available here.
After Round 1 in Auction 103, spectrum was selling for just $0.000931 per MHz-POP compared to $0.001606 per MHz-POP at the same point in Auction 102. “With 3400 MHz of spectrum available and just 35 bidders competing, it will be a struggle for Auction 103 to reach anywhere near the disappointing $0.009112 per MHz-POP that Auction 102 reached after 91 rounds,” wrote Sasha Javid, COO at the Spectrum Consortium, in a blog post. “I think it’s safe to say they’re going to try to do this faster than the previous auctions,” he added, referring to the number of rounds per day. Javid is tracking the latest auction on his website. Javid said he suspects the FCC will stick with three rounds for a few more days but will increase the number of rounds per day much faster than in previous millimeter wave auctions. “I think it’s safe to say they’re going to try to do this faster than the previous auctions,” he said, referring to the number of rounds per day.
The full list the 35 qualified bidders for Auction 103 is here. The FCC won’t release the identities of the bidders until the auction is over. And analysts continue to believe that overall demand for mmWave spectrum is cooling as more and more mmWave spectrum becomes available, and the industry’s attention turns to other types of spectrum — specifically midband spectrum for 5G.
“There’s so much of it [millimeter wave spectrum] that’s already been brought to the marketplace that hasn’t even started to be used yet,” Brian Goemmer, president of spectrum analysis company AllNet Insights & Analytics, told FierceWireless in October.
Analysts at Wall Street brokerage firm Raymond James wrote in an October report that there’s “not much treasure expected in these waters.” They estimate that the FCC’s newest mmWave spectrum auction will raise around $3 billion in total bids — slightly above previous mmWave auctions but well below auctions for mid-band and low-band spectrum.
The FCC has already auctioned a significant amount of mmWave spectrum during its two other auctions: Auction 101, which raised $703 million in bids, and Auction 102, which raised $2 billion in bids. The first round of Auction 101 raised just $36 million in bids, while the first round of Auction 102 raised $284 million in bids.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai issued the following statement:
Today’s spectrum auction shows that America is continuing to lead the world in 5G, the next generation of wireless connectivity. These airwaves will be critical in deploying 5G services and applications. Auctioning the 39 GHz and upper 37 GHz bands together presents a critical opportunity for 5G deployment as it represents the largest amount of contiguous spectrum available in the millimeter-wave bands.
Notably, we’re setting up the Upper 37 GHz, 39 GHz, and 47 GHz auction to be our second ever incentive auction. This one will be different from the broadcast incentive auction that Congress authorized years ago, but it’ll have the same worthy goal: clearing or repacking existing licensees to make spectrum as useful as possible, boosting competition and benefiting consumers.
Pushing more spectrum into the commercial marketplace is a key component of our 5G FAST plan to advance American leadership in the next generation of wireless connectivity. Earlier this year, we concluded our first-ever high-band 5G auctions of the 28 GHz and 24 GHz bands. Next year, we look forward to initiating two mid-band spectrum auctions—the 3.5 GHz auction on June 25, 2020, and an auction in the 3.7-4.2 GHz band in the latter part of 2020. These and other steps will help us stay ahead of the spectrum curve and allow wireless innovation to thrive on our shores.”
Light Reading’s Mike Dano notes that most of the rest of the world is moving forward with 5G in midband spectrum, not mmWave spectrum. For example, China and South Korea are both mainly using the 3.5GHz band for their respective 5G buildouts.
A recent report from the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) indicates that other countries besides the U.S have a vested interest in mmWave spectrum. GSA’s report on spectrum above 6GHz found that 66 operators across 13 countries hold licences enabling operation of 5G networks using mmWave spectrum, and that 14 are known to be deploying 5G networks using mmWave spectrum. We analyzed and broke down GSA’s mmWave findings in this IEEE Techblog post.
In an earlier post, we noted that WRC 19 had approved the frequency bands of 24.25-27.5 GHz, 37-43.5 GHz, 45.5-47 GHz, 47.2-48.2 and 66-71 GHz for the deployment of 5G networks (IMT 2020).
Dec 13th Update from Light Reading:
Millimeter Wave Spectrum Auction Blasts Past $1.5B, Shows No Signs of Cooling
The FCC’s ongoing auction of millimeter-wave (mmWave) spectrum this week shot past the $1.5 billion-mark in terms of total bids placed, and the pace of action in the event hasn’t slowed down since it started on Monday. The spectrum will likely be put to use in 5G networks.
According to spectrum expert Stephen Wilkus of Spectrum Financial Partners, bidders in the FCC’s latest spectrum auction have been increasing their bids by 10% to 20% during each of the last nine rounds of bidding. He said that the event, which started Monday, has already exceeded his expectations and appears to be headed toward $3 billion in total bids.
However, analyst Tim Farrar with TMF Associates noted that the auction would have to generate between $7 billion and $8 billion in total bids to reach the same valuations as the FCC’s two prior mmWave spectrum auctions.
The FCC’s Auction 101 for 28GHz spectrum licenses raised $703 million in total bids, while its Auction 102 for 24GHz licenses raised $2 billion in bids. The FCC disclosed the results of those auctions this summer. The agency’s Auction 103, which started Monday, offers an astounding 3,400MHz of spectrum across the 37GHz, 39GHz and 47GHz bands — that’s far more overall spectrum than was available in the agency’s two prior mmWave auctions.
Wilkus of Spectrum Financial Partners said that the average price for spectrum licenses in the FCC’s ongoing Auction 103 clocked in at just $0.00187 per MHz/POP in round eight, which he said was five times lower than the final price of the 24GHz spectrum auction earlier this year.
At issue is the way the value of spectrum is calculated. “MHz/POP” refers to the amount of spectrum available in a license across how many people it covers. For lowband spectrum like 600MHz, those calculations often sit in the $1 range since 600MHz transmissions can travel across miles of geography, and operators generally buy licenses in the band in blocks of 10MHz. Calculations for mmWave spectrum are much different though, considering transmissions in such spectrum can’t travel more than a few thousand feet, and operators often buy such spectrum in 100MHz chunks. That’s why the FCC’s first two mmWave spectrum auctions ended at just $0.01 per MHz-POP.
“Results after the first round of bidding in the FCC’s Auction 103 appear to indicate that the federal coffers may end up lighter than expected,” wrote Spectrum Consortium COO Sasha Javid on LinkedIn after the first day of bidding in Auction 103. Javid manages some of the spectrum holdings of some TV broadcasters. “Round 1 ended with gross proceeds totaling $637,295,800. While this is more than the approximately $284 million raised after Round 1 of Auction 102 (the 24 GHz auction), it is approximately 40% less on a MHz-POP basis. After Round 1, spectrum is selling for just $0.000931 per MHz-POP, compared to $0.001606 per MHz-POP at the same point in Auction 102. With 3400 MHz of spectrum available and just 35 bidders competing, it will be a struggle for Auction 103 to reach anywhere near the disappointing $0.009112 per MHz-POP that Auction 102 reached after 91 rounds.”
Dec 24th Update from Light Reading:
mmWave Auction Nears $6B, but Action Slows
The FCC paused its millimeter-wave (mmWave) spectrum auction for the holidays, allowing bidders to take a break from their billion-dollar gambles. Action in the auction — which is nearing $6 billion in total bids — is scheduled to resume Jan. 6.
Already the auction has surpassed some initial estimates that pegged total bids topping out at $3 billion.
However, it appears that the event is slowly cruising toward a finish. “Incremental gross bids by round had been climbing uphill, but then started going downhill fast in recent rounds,” noted the analysts at Wall Street research firm Raymond James in a note this weekend to investors.
Jan 22, 2020 Update from RCR Wireless:
mmWave auction activity surges as FCC pushes toward conclusion
Auction total hits $7.5 billion, as bidders scoop up licenses in smaller and rural markets
A nudge from the Federal Communications Commission has prompted a surge in bidding activity in the ongoing millimeter wave spectrum auction, with bidders broadening their interest to include licenses in geographic areas which they had ignored until this point.
That hasn’t moved the bid total by much, though, with gross proceeds having crept up from around $7.4 billion last week to $7.5 billion as of the end of round 76 on Wednesday. No bidding was held on Monday due to the federal holiday.
As of Tuesday, the FCC began requiring that bidders use 100% of their eligible bidding activity, instead of the 95% that had been previously required. It’s a use-it-or-lose it scenario in which bidders who don’t use all of their bidding units risk having their eligibility for bid units decreased until it’s in line with their activity, a move which the FCC noted in an auction announcement could “possibly [curtail]or [eliminate]the bidder’s ability to place additional bids in the auction.”
In response, the number of spectrum “products” with more bidding demand than license supply has jumped, from low double-digits late last week to nearly 300 as of the end of round 76. Auction 103 is using a clock format for its first phase, in which bidders compete for the license type and location they desire, with prices automatically increasing each round, until bidders’ demand for licenses at a certain price matches the supply. At that point, the clock phase with end and an assignment phase for specific spectrum blocks will follow.
While major urban market licenses were bid up quickly and then mid-sized markets followed, licenses with low demand have been those in lightly populated, rural and remote areas, and U.S. island territories. There are 832 total spectrum products (the MN and P licenses in each of the 416 geographic Partial Economic Areas) available in the auction, and as of the close of round 76, 284 of those had greater demand than supply, 545 had demand equal to supply and just three had demand less than supply.
Last week, around 40 licenses had no demand at all, according to analysis from Sasha Javid, COO at the Spectrum Consortium and former chief data officer and legal advisor on the FCC’s Incentive Auction Task Force; that figure has since dropped to zero licenses with no demand.
There are still 35 qualified bidders competing in Auction 103.
Stephen Wilkus, CTO at Spectrum Financial Partners, has been tweeting his auction observations and opined on Tuesday that the push from the FCC “will pressure the auction to end in the next few rounds.”
Another five, 30-minute rounds of bidding are scheduled for Thursday, but the FCC has held off on scheduling rounds for Friday as of yet.
More than 14,100 licenses are up for grabs across three mmWave bands in Auction 103: the upper 37 GHz band (37.6-38.6 GHz), the 39 GHz band (38.6-40 GHz) and the 47 GHz band (47.2-48.2 GHz). The licenses are based on a Partial Economic Area geographic basis which divides the country into 416 sections.
There is more spectrum available at 39 GHz than in the other two bands, with 14 blocks of 100 megahertz available, or 5,824 individual licenses. The 47 GHz and upper 37 GHz bands each have 4,160 licenses available, or 10 blocks of 100 megahertz in each PEA. The FCC has divided the spectrum into two categories of licenses: 24 100-MHz licenses in the 37 and 39 GHz frequency blocks, the MN or M/N licenses, and ten 100-MHz licenses in the 47 GHz frequency block, the P licenses.
The FCC has authorized either fixed or mobile use in the bands, and the commission has emphasized the sheer amount of spectrum available: at 3,400 megahertz, Auction 103 puts up the largest amount of spectrum ever offered in an auction.
Information on FCC Auction 103 is available at: https://www.fcc.gov/auction/103/factsheet
To learn more about the FCC’s 5G efforts, please visit www.fcc.gov/5G
FCC Investigation finds that three wireless network operators exaggerated coverage maps for rural areas:
In its MOBILITY FUND PHASE II -COVERAGE MAPS INVESTIGATION report, the FCC concluded that: “that 4G-LTE coverage maps submitted by Verizon, U.S. Cellular and T-Mobile overstated their coverage and thus were not accurate reflections of actual coverage.”
As part of the Mobility Fund Phase II, mobile network providers were given U.S. federal support for deploying 4G-LTE services to rural and underserved areas. That initiative was supposed to bridge the digital divide between the served and underserved U.S. population. As part of the agreement, the mobile providers were obliged to provide accurate coverage maps to ensure the federal government cash they were receiving was being spent to provide better coverage to their under-served and unserved customers.
The FCC said that U.S. mobile network providers are responsible for submitting accurate coverage maps in accordance with the Commission’s rules and orders. In response to these concerns and based upon a preliminary FCC staff review of the challenger data, the Commission launched an investigation into whether one or more major mobile network providers violated the requirements of the one-time collection of coverage data.
The investigation was led by the Rural Broadband Auctions Task Force in coordination with the Office of Economics and Analytics, Enforcement Bureau, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, Wireline Competition Bureau, and the Office of Engineering and Technology. FCC staff initially requested information directly from several providers in order to understand providers’ mapping processes, and later issued subpoenas to Verizon and U.S. Cellular.
This FCC investigation discovered that the MF-II coverage maps submitted by Verizon, U.S. Cellular, and T-Mobile likely overstated each provider’s actual coverage and did not reflect on-the-ground performance in many instances.
Only 62.3% of staff drive tests achieved at least the minimum download speed predicted by the coverage maps—with U.S. Cellular achieving that speed in only 45.0% of such tests, T-Mobile in 63.2% of tests, and Verizon in 64.3% of tests. Similarly, staff stationary tests showed that each provider achieved sufficient download speeds meeting the minimum cell edge probability in fewer than half of all test locations (20 of 42).
In addition, FCC staff was unable to obtain any 4G LTE signal for 38% of drive tests on U.S. Cellular’s network, 21.3% of drive tests on T-Mobile’s network, and 16.2% of drive tests on Verizon’s network, despite each provider reporting coverage in the relevant area.
In other words, these three mobile network operators were not spending federal money as promised. Worse, is that they were effectively lying to the FCC and their subscribers (or potential subscribers) in the geographical areas with inaccurate coverage maps.
Astonishingly, the FCC does not currently have any plans to punish (via fine or reduce future subsidies) these three mobile operators. Yet the FCC said that “inaccurate data jeopardize the ability of the Commission to focus our limited universal service funds on the unserved areas that need the most support.”
Instead of punishment, the FCC Rural Broadband Auctions Task Force made the following recommendations:
First, the Commission should terminate the MF-II Challenge Process. The MF-II coverage maps submitted by several providers are not a sufficiently reliable or accurate basis upon which to complete the challenge process as it was designed. The MF-II Challenge Process was designed to resolve coverage disputes regarding generally reliable maps; it was not designed to correct generally overstated coverage maps. 7.
Second, the Commission should release an Enforcement Advisory on broadband deployment data submissions, including a detailing of the penalties associated with filings that violate federal law, both for the continuing FCC Form 477 filings and the new Digital Opportunity Data Collection.
Editor’s Note: The Commission relies upon coverage maps submitted by providers in accordance with data collection rules and specifications adopted through notice and comment rulemakings. For almost two decades, the Commission has relied on FCC Form 477 to collect data on mobile services.
Overstating mobile broadband coverage misleads the public and can misallocate our limited universal service funds, and thus it must be met with meaningful consequences.
Third, the Commission should analyze and verify the technical mapping data submitted in the most recent Form 477 filings of Verizon, U.S. Cellular, and T-Mobile to determine whether they meet the Form 477 requirements.
Fourth, the Commission should adopt policies, procedures, and standards in the Digital Opportunity Data Collection rulemaking and elsewhere that allow for submission, verification, and timely publication of mobile broadband coverage data. Mobile broadband coverage data specifications should include, among other parameters, minimum reference signal received power (RSRP) and/or minimum downlink and uplink speeds, standard cell loading factors and cell edge coverage probabilities, maximum terrain and clutter bin sizes, and standard fading statistics. Providers should be required to submit actual on-the-ground evidence of network performance (e.g., speed test measurement samplings, including targeted drive test and stationary test data) that validate the propagation model used to generate the coverage maps. The Commission should consider requiring that providers assume the minimum values for any additional parameters that would be necessary to accurately determine the area where a handset should achieve download and upload speeds no less than the minimum throughput requirement for any modeling that includes such a requirement.
In a call with reporters, a senior FCC official said that commission staff was unable to determine whether the carriers’ exaggerations were deliberate. The official said that the investigation did not establish a clear violation of a specific rule. The FCC official said that maps submitted by carriers were based on industry-standard propagation models and that the FCC’s own tests made it clear that those industry models do not reflect on-the-ground experience.
U.S. Cellular said it had warned that the FCC’s directions for the coverage maps would result in overstated coverage, and said the staff report comes as “no surprise.”
The company “faithfully implemented” the FCC’s requirements for the coverage maps it submitted but recognizes “better and more accurate maps are necessary,” said Grant Spellmeyer, vice president of federal affairs and public policy for the carrier.
FCC to Launch $9 billion 5G Fund for Rural America:
In a related press release, the FCC will create a new fund which will make $9 billion available to ensure 5G connectivity reaches underserved areas that have been largely neglected by the large nationwide U.S. wireless operators.
“5G has the potential to bring many benefits to American consumers and businesses, including wireless networks that are more responsive, more secure, and up to 100 times faster than today’s 4G LTE networks,” said Chairman Pai in the aforementioned press release. He added:
“We want to make sure that rural Americans enjoy these benefits, just as residents of large urban areas will. In order to do that, the Universal Service Fund must be forward-looking and support the networks of tomorrow. Moreover, America’s farms and ranches have unique wireless connectivity needs, as I’ve seen across the country. That’s why I will move forward as quickly as possible to establish a 5G Fund that would bring next-generation 5G services to rural areas and would reserve some of that funding for 5G networks that promote precision agriculture. We must ensure that 5G narrows rather than widens the digital divide and that rural Americans receive the benefits that come from wireless innovation.”
The new 5G Fund would replace the planned Mobility Fund Phase II, which would have provided federal support for 4G LTE service in unserved areas. Pursuant to the Mobility Fund Phase II rules, wireless providers were required to submit 4G LTE coverage data in order to help the Commission target federal subsidies to unserved parts of the country.
The smaller, rural wireless network providers (some of whom use Huawei gear) have long complained the nationwide, larger wireless operators were exaggerating coverage maps. These coverage maps helped the FCC determine who should get a slice of the $4.5 billion reserved for the Mobility Fund Phase II fund.
Questions to Ponder:
What is being done to make sure the same abuses do not reoccur in the new 5G Fund for Rural America?
Can these three telco exaggerators be trusted to appropriately spend their allocation of the $9 billion moving forward?
Is FCC enforcement a thing of the past, now that net neutrality is gone?
Michael Copps, Former FCC Commissioner and Common Cause Special Adviser had this to say:
“With its latest announcement to deploy 5G in rural America, the FCC continues its smoke and mirrors show to cover up the poor state of broadband deployment in the nation.
“First, many parts of the country – both urban and rural – lack 4G or any type of wireless connectivity at all. The FCC has systematically failed to address the wireless broadband needs of many communities but chooses to put the cart before the horse with another announcement on 5G.
“Second, the FCC buries the real story in its announcement – wireless carriers have greatly exaggerated their coverage maps, helping paint an inaccurate picture of who has access to broadband. The FCC has known the maps have been bad for quite some time but chose to do nothing. Even with its latest findings that carriers lied about coverage maps, the FCC has not leveled any fines or held the companies accountable in any way. This points to a larger problem regarding the FCC’s failure to provide the public with granular and accurate broadband maps. If we can’t even determine who does and does not have access to broadband, we can’t sufficiently close the digital divide.
Third, the agency is seemingly not providing any new funding to deploy 5G. Rather, it is terminating the current funding mechanism to deploy 4G only to open a new one for 5G. Moving a pot of money around shows that the FCC lacks a clear strategy and vision to deploy 5G nationwide. It is these kinds of zig-zags and diversions on broadband that make our country such an outlier when it comes to broadband penetration.”