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.”
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: