AT&T, Verizon Propose C Band Power Limits to Address FAA 5G Air Safety concerns

AT&T and Verizon said today that they would limit some of their 5G wireless services for six months while federal regulators review the signals’ effect on aircraft sensors, an effort to defuse a conflict about C band interference that has roiled both industries.

The cellphone carriers detailed the proposed limits Wednesday in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The companies said they would lower the signals’ cell-tower power levels nationwide and impose stricter power caps near airports and helipads, according to a copy reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.   This comes after, both companies agreed to push back their 5G C band rollouts by an additional month to January 5, 2022 after the FAA issued a Nov. 2 bulletin warning that action may be needed to address the potential interference caused by the 5G deployment.

“While we remain confident that 5G poses no risk to air safety, we are also sensitive to the Federal Aviation Administration‘s desire for additional analysis of this issue,” the companies said in the letter to FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.

“Wireless carriers, including AT&T and Verizon, paid over $80 billion for C-band spectrum—and have committed to pay another $15 billion to satellite users for early access to those licenses—and made those investments in reliance on a set of technical ground rules that were expressly found by the FCC to protect other spectrum users.”

AT&T and Verizon said they had committed for six months to take “additional steps to minimize energy coming from 5G base stations – both nationwide and to an even greater degree around public airports and heliports,” and said that should address altimeter concerns.

Wireless industry officials have held frequent talks with FCC and FAA experts to discuss the interference claims and potential fixes, according to people familiar with the matter. An FCC spokesman said the agreed-upon limits “represent one of the most comprehensive efforts in the world to safeguard aviation technologies” and the agency will work with the FAA “so that 5G networks deploy both safely and swiftly.”  Wireless groups argue that there have been no C-Band aviation safety issues in other countries using the spectrum.

Earlier this month, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) warned it could restrict U.S. airspace in bad weather if the networks were turned on as planned in December. The FAA warning came in the thick of cellphone carriers’ network upgrade projects.  A spokesman for the FAA called the proposal “an important and encouraging step, and we are committed to continued constructive dialogue with all of the stakeholders.” The FAA believes that aviation and 5G service in the band telecom companies have planned to use can safely coexist, he said.

AT&T and Verizon said they would temporarily lower cell-tower power levels for their 5G wireless services nationwide.


Wireless industry executives don’t expect the temporary limits to seriously impair the bandwidth they provide customers because networks already direct signals away from planes and airport tarmacs, according to another person familiar with the matter.

Still, the voluntary limits are a rare step for wireless companies that place a high value on the spectrum licenses they hold. U.S. carriers spent $81 billion to buy licenses for the 5G airwaves in question, known as the C-band, and spent $15 billion more to prepare them for service this winter.

The carriers earlier this month delayed their rollout plans until early January after FAA leaders raised concerns about the planned 5G service. Air-safety officials worried the new transmissions could confuse some radar altimeters, which aircraft use to measure their distance from the ground.

At an industry event last week, FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said conducting flights in a safe manner and tapping spectrum for 5G services can both occur. He said the question was how to “tailor both what we’re doing in aviation so that it dovetails with the use of this particular spectrum.”  Mr. Dickson said another focus is the use of the spectrum in other parts of the world and how it differs compared with the U.S. “That’s what the discussions are that we’re having with the telecoms right now.”

U.S. wireless companies send 5G signals over lower frequencies than the altimeters, but air-safety officials worried that some especially sensitive sensors could still pick up cell-tower transmissions. Regulators in Canada and France have also imposed some temporary 5G limits.

The carriers’ letter said the mitigation measures would provide more time for technical analysis “without waiver of our legal rights associated with our substantial investments in these licenses.”

C-band limits are most relevant to AT&T and Verizon, which paid premiums to grab licenses for the new signals ready for use in December 2021. The companies still plan to launch their service, subject to the new limits, in January 2022. The proposed limits would extend to July 6, 2022 “unless credible evidence exists that real world interference would occur if the mitigations were relaxed.”

Rival carrier T-Mobile US Inc. is less vulnerable to delay because it spent a smaller amount for licenses that are eligible for use in December 2023. It also controls a swath of licenses suitable for 5G that aren’t subject to air-safety claims.

It’s not yet clear whether the proposal will be accepted by the FAA, which has warned pilots of the possibility that “interference from 5G transmitters and other technology could cause certain safety equipment to malfunction, requiring them to take mitigating action that could affect flight operations.” After July 6th, both carriers say they’ll set everything back to normal “unless credible evidence exists that real-world interference would occur if the mitigations were relaxed.”

“Our use of this spectrum will dramatically expand the reach and capabilities of the nation’s next-generation 5G networks, advancing US leadership, and bringing enormous benefits to consumers and the US economy,” Verizon and AT&T claimed in their joint letter sent to the FCC.

The federal agencies and the companies they oversee are meanwhile stuck in what New Street Research analyst Blair Levin called “a deep state game of chicken” guided by each regulator’s particular interest, with no clear path towards resolution.



C-Band 5G’s Threat to Aviation

Analysis: FCC’s C band auction impact on U.S. wireless telcos

Importance of FCC C Band Auction for 5G in the U.S.


FCC Auction 110 for mid-band 5G spectrum gets $21.9B in winning bids

The latest FCC auction (#110) of mid-band spectrum for 5G ended Tuesday with a total of $21.9 billion in winning bids.  That total is roughly in line with pre-auction estimates.

Auction 110 offered 100 megahertz of mid-band spectrum in the 3.45–3.55 GHz band (the 3.45 GHz Service) for flexible use, including 5G wireless. The 100 megahertz of spectrum available in Auction 110 will be licensed on an unpaired basis divided into ten 10-megahertz blocks in partial economic areas (PEAs) located in the contiguous 48 states and the District of Columbia (PEAs 1–41, 43–211, 213–263, 265–297, 299–359, and 361–411).  These 10-megahertz blocks are designated as A through J.

The clock phase concluded on November 16, 2021.  The FCC will release a public notice within the next few business days announcing details about the assignment phase, including the date and time when bidding in the assignment phase will begin.

See the Auction 110 website for more information.


  • Qualified Bidders (Clock Phase)= 33
  • Licenses Won=4041
  • FCC Held Licenses=19
  • Total Licenses=4060
  • Gross Proceeds as of Clock Phase=$21,888,007,794

Next up is the auction’s “assignment” phase, wherein winning bidders can select the specific frequencies they want to use. After that phase is over, the FCC will announce the identities of the winning bidders. That might not happen until December or January.

Major participants in the auction included AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Dish Network, Grain Management and Columbia Capital.

The spectrum in this auction is ideal for 5G.  Mid-band spectrum is in high demand because it is widely viewed as providing the optimum mix of speed and coverage for 5G. Licenses in Auction 110 sold for an average of $0.666 per MHz per person (MHz pop) in the coverage area, according to Sasha Javid, chief operating officer for BitPath, who has been doing a detailed daily analysis of auction results.

Auction 110 winners will pay less per MHz pop in comparison with what Auction 107 (C-band) winners paid but more than Auction 105 CBRS band winners paid, according to Javid. Those other two auctions also included mid-band spectrum and the C-band auction was record breaking.

Javid notes that the CBRS licenses were subject to power restraints, making them less valuable. He didn’t offer an opinion on why Auction 110 licenses were less costly than Auction 107 licenses (on a MHz-pop basis), but perhaps the disparity is related to license size.

Winning bidders will need to purchase new radio equipment from base station/kit makers Ericsson, Nokia, and Samsung (but not Huawei or ZTE which are banned in the U.S.) to put their spectrum licenses into 5 commercial service.

Unlike past spectrum auctions, cable companies including Comcast and Charter did not participate in the auction. Based on Dish Network’s recent fundraising, the company appears poised to potentially account for as much as a fourth of the auction’s total.

Broadly, the FCC’s 110 auction of spectrum licenses between 3.45GHz and 3.55GHz can be considered a success. The auction started October 5, and bidding crossed the critical $14.8 billion reserve price October 20. That was a necessary milestone considering that reserve price is the cost to move existing, incumbent military users out of the band.

The auction was worth around $0.70 per MHz-POP. The per MHz-POP calculation is applied to most spectrum transactions and reflects the number of people covered compared with the amount of spectrum available, though it can be affected by a wide variety of factors.

In comparison, the recent CBRS auction of mid-band spectrum drew winning bids of just $0.215 per MHz-POP, whereas the massive C-band auction generated winning bids of $0.945 per MHz-POP, a figure that does not account for additional clearing costs.

This FCC auction is the agency’s third-biggest spectrum auction ever. As noted by Next TV, only the $45 billion AWS-3 auction in 2015 and the $81 billion C-band auction earlier this year generated more in winning bids. The auction earlier this month passed the FCC’s broadcast incentive auction of 600MHz licenses, which ended with $19.8 billion in winning bids in 2017.

The value of the spectrum licenses in this auction could rise if interference with aircraft concerns continue to drag on the C-band.  However, CTIA President and CEO, Meredith Attwell Baker in response to the bulletin maintained that 5G using C-band won’t cause interference and that timely deployments are key for 5G leadership. “5G networks using C-band spectrum operate safely and without causing harmful interference to aviation equipment.


FCC Pockets Close to $22B in Auction 110 of 3.45 GHz Band Spectrum$219b-in-bids/d/d-id/773549?


GAO: U.S. Broadband Benchmark Speeds Too Slow; FCC Should Analyze Small Business Speed Needs

In a report released Thursday, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) said that the FCC’s benchmark for minimum broadband internet speeds (set six years ago at “always on” access of 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream) is no longer fast enough. That’s  especially the case for small business owners. After conducting a study on the matter, the GAO recommends the FCC analyze small business speed requirements at this time and reconsider its current definition.

“FCC officials said they are not aware of any small business requirements that have been taken into consideration in determining the minimum speed benchmark,” the GAO says. “Analyzing small business speed requirements could help inform FCC’s determination of the benchmark speed for broadband.”

The figure below illustrates the various kinds of business broadband use and the associated relative speed requirements.

Illustrative Examples of Different Kinds of U.S. Business Broadband Use:

Illustrative Examples of Different Kinds of Business Broadband Use

Sources vary in terms of the specific speeds they recommend for small businesses. For example, in 2017, BroadbandUSA—a National Telecommunications and Information Administration program—published a fact sheet stating that small businesses need a minimum of 50 Mbps speeds in order to conduct tasks such as managing inventory, operating point-of-sale terminals, and coordinating shipping. A 2019 USDA report on rural broadband and agriculture stated that, as technology advances and volumes of data needed to manage agriculture production grow, speeds in excess of 25/3 Mbps with more equal download and upload speeds will likely be necessary.

Reports from small businesses show that many want a download speed of at least 100 Mbps to run their operations more effectively. According to the FCC’s data, about 67 percent of rural Americans have access to 100 Mbps down/10 Mbps up speeds, compared to about 83 percent with access to the agency’s current minimum benchmark.

To fulfill a statutory requirement to determine annually whether advanced telecommunications capability is being deployed on a reasonable and timely basis to all Americans, FCC sets a minimum broadband speed benchmark.

In its 2021 Broadband Deployment Report, FCC stated that the current benchmark, last set in 2015, continues to meet that requirement. However, FCC officials said they are not aware of any small business requirements that have been taken into consideration in determining the minimum speed benchmark. Analyzing small business speed requirements could help inform FCC’s determination of the benchmark speed for broadband.


GAO is making one recommendation to FCC to solicit stakeholder input and analyze small business broadband speed needs and incorporate the results of this analysis into the benchmark for broadband. FCC agreed with this recommendation.




GSA Report: Spectrum Above 6 GHz & related FCC Activity

Executive Summary:

GSA’s latest report provides a snapshot of the global status of national usage of spectrum above 6 GHz for 5G services. It is part of a series of reports which separately also cover spectrum bands below 1 GHz and between 1 GHz and 6 GHz. This report reflects a market that is in constant flux (which this author has repeatedly stated would be the case till the most important IMT 2020 recommendations have been approved by ITU-R and ITU-T).

Key statistics:

  • Sixty-seven operators in 13 countries hold licences enabling operation of 5G networks using mmWave spectrum.
  • Fourteen operators are known to be deploying 5G networks using mmWave spectrum.
  • Fourteen countries have announced formal (date-specified) plans for allocating frequencies above 6 GHz between now and end-2021.
  • Fifty-nine announced 5G devices explicitly support one or more of the 5G spectrum bands above 6 GHz (though note that details of spectrum support is patchy for pre-commercial devices). Eleven of those devices are known to be commercially available.

5G deployments in bands above 6 GHz:

Spectrum bands above 6 GHz are being explicitly opened up to enable provision of 5G services. GSA is aware of the following usage for 5G. The 24250–29500 MHz range covering the overlapping bands n257 (26500–29500 MHz), n258 (24250–27500 MHz) and n261 (27500–28350 MHz) has been the most-used 5G mmWave spectrum range to date:

  • 113 operators in 39 countries are investing in pre-standard 5G (in the form of trials, licences, deployments or operational networks) across this spectrum range.
  • 66 operators are licensed to deploy 5G in this range.
  • 12 operators are understood to be actively deploying 5G networks using spectrum above 6 GHz.
  • Eight operators in seven countries have reported running 5G tests/trials at 15 GHz.
  • One operator has reported running 5G tests/trials at 18 GHz.
  • Band n260, covering 37–40 GHz, is also already being used, with three companies in the USA actively deploying networks using this spectrum.
  • Thirteen operators in eleven countries have been evaluating/ testing/trialling 5G using spectrum from 66 GHz to 76 GHz.
  • GSA has identified four operators that have run tests/trials using spectrum from 81 GHz to 87 GHz.

Figure 1: Use of 5G spectrum between 24.25 GHz and 29.5 GHz, countries plotted by status of most advanced operator activities

At WRC-2019 in November, delegates identifi ed several new frequency ranges for IMT and IMT-2020 (5G). These encompassed many of the existing 3GPP specified bands plus some new spectrum ranges:
• 24.25–27.5 GHz

• 37–43.5 GHz

• 45.5–47 GHz

• 47.2–48.2 GHz

• 66–71 GHz.

Other spectrum being considered by national regulators and international standards bodies, or that has been used in operator trials, is between the 71–86 GHz range.


5G device support for bands above 6 GHz:

5G device support for spectrum bands above 6 GHz is still at an early stage. GSA’s GAMBoD database includes 59 announced 3GPP compliant 5G devices that do or will support mmWave spectrum bands. Eleven of those are commercially available. The numbers of devices identified as supporting specific bands is much lower, as details of spectrum support is patchy for pre-commercial devices.


USA (Federal Communications Commission (FCC)):

In the USA, any bands already used for mobile service can also be deployed for 5G; FCC doesn’t require any particular technology and the choice is driven by carriers. This means multiple historic auctions are relevant for 5G including but not limited to those for spectrum at 28 GHz (March 1998 and May 1999) and 39 GHz (May 2000).

The FCC is currently undertaking a range of activities with a view to opening up extra spectrum for mobile use. In 2016, the FCC adopted its Upper Microwave Flexible Use Rules to make spectrum at 28 GHz, upper 37 GHz and 39 GHz available (including for 5G). Then the new Spectrum Frontier order dated 16 November 2017 put in place plans to open up an additional 1.7 GHz of mmWave spectrum in the 24 GHz and 47 GHz bands for fl exible terrestrial wireless use. FCC also enabled use of spectrum between 64 GHz and 71 GHz by unlicensed devices (subject to restrictions).

In October 2018, the Commission issued a notice of proposed rules that would open up the 5.925–6.425 GHz and 6.425–7.125 GHz bands for unlicensed use, subject to establishing a mechanism to prevent interference with incumbent services. It specifi cally anticipates – depending upon the part of the spectrum concerned – the use of low or standard power WiFi or variants of LTE for indoor or outdoor use.

The FCC has been running auctions of spectrum in the 24 GHz and 28 GHz bands. The auction of spectrum at 28 GHz (27.5–28.35 GHz) completed in January 2019, with bids totalling more than $700 million. Thirty-three bidders won 2965 licences.

The auction of spectrum at 24 GHz (24.25–24.45 GHz and 24.75–25.25 GHz) ended in May 2019 raising $2.02 billion in net bids. Twenty-nine bidders won 2904 licences.

In June 2018, FCC announced that it is also considering making an additional 2.75 GHz of the 26 GHz and 42 GHz bands available for 5G. In December 2018, FCC announced an incentive auction (Auction 103) covering spectrum at 37 GHz (37.6–38.6 GHz), 39 GHz (38.6–40 GHz) and 47 GHz (47.2–48.2 GHz) in order to free up more spectrum for 5G. Under the incentive auction, existing rights holders in those bands can choose either to relinquish their rights in exchange for a share of the auction revenue or alternatively receive modifi ed licences after the auction consistent with a new band plan and service rules.

Auctions for 37 GHz, 39 GHz and 47 GHz bands are planned by the end of 2019. Procedures for reconfiguring the 39 GHz band, enabling existing licensees to relinquish or modify their licences were published in March 2019. Technical guides for bidding procedures were published in April 2019, along with the announcement of a process for sharing the spectrum at 37 GHz with the Department of Defense. Timelines for the reconfiguration of existing rights were published in June 2019.


Planned 5G auctions and their dates:

Fourteen countries have announced formal (date-specifi ed) plans for allocating mmWave frequencies between now and end-2021. A few other auctions/ allocations are timetabled to happen from 2022 onwards. Many countries are still deciding whether and when to hold auctions/ allocations for spectrum above 6 GHz.


Spectrum above 6 GHz, and in particular mmWave spectrum, has rapidly become important for mobile telecoms. It is clear, with the number of spectrum awards expected over the coming years, and the agreement of new mmWave spectrum bands at WRC-19, the investment in these spectrum bands by operators and commitments to launch compatible devices by vendors, that the importance of spectrum above 6 GHz is going to continue to grow. GSA will continue to track this trend. This report will be next updated in early 2020.





ITU-R Report: U.S. Experience on the use of terrestrial IMT systems in frequency bands below 1 GHz

Draft New Report M.[IMT.EXPERIENCES] – Annex 6  U.S.A



On March 17, 2010, the FCC released The National Broadband Plan, establishing a roadmap for initiatives to stimulate economic growth, spur job creation and boost America’s capabilities in education, health care, homeland security and more. The plan includes sections focusing on economic opportunity, education, health care, energy and the environment, government performance, civic engagement and public safety. The Plan fulfilled a Congressional mandate to ensure every American has “access to broadband capability,” including a detailed strategy for achieving affordability and maximizing use of broadband. One of the key elements of the plan is ensuring efficient allocation and use of government-owned and government-influenced assets. The Plan recommended making an additional 500 MHz of spectrum newly available for broadband within 10 years, of which 300 MHz should be available for mobile use within five years. In order to achieve this goal, the FCC established principles to:
– Enable incentives and mechanisms to repurpose spectrum to more flexible uses. Mechanisms include incentive auctions, which allow auction proceeds to be shared in an equitable manner with current licensees as market demands change. These would benefit both spectrum holders and the American public. The public could benefit from additional spectrum for high-demand uses and from new auction revenues. Incumbents, meanwhile, could recognize a portion of the value of enabling new uses of spectrum. For example, this would allow the FCC to share auction proceeds with broadcasters who voluntarily agree to use technology to continue traditional broadcast services with less spectrum.
– Ensure greater transparency of spectrum allocation, assignment and use to foster an efficient secondary market.
– Expand opportunities for innovative spectrum access models by creating new avenues for opportunistic and unlicensed use of spectrum and increasing research into new spectrum technologies.

600 MHz:
In 2014, the FCC adopted a Report and Order for Incentive Auctions. The incentive auction is a new tool authorized by Congress to help the Commission meet the Nation’s accelerating spectrum needs. Broadcasters were given the unique financial opportunity in the “reverse auction” phase of the incentive auction to return some or all of their broadcast spectrum usage rights in exchange for incentive payments. By facilitating the voluntary return of spectrum usage rights and reorganizing the broadcast television bands, the FCC could recover a portion of ultra-high frequency (“UHF”) spectrum for a “forward auction” of new, flexible-use licenses suitable for providing mobile broadband services. Payments to broadcasters that participate in the reverse auction can strengthen broadcasting by funding new content, services, and delivery mechanisms. And by making more spectrum available for mobile broadband use, the incentive auction will benefit consumers by easing congestion on the Nation’s airwaves, expediting the development of new, more robust wireless services and applications, and spurring job creation and economic growth.

The broadcast incentive auction itself comprised of two separate but interdependent auctions – a reverse auction, which will determine the price at which broadcasters will voluntarily relinquish their spectrum usage rights; and a forward auction, which will determine the price companies are willing to pay for flexible use wireless licenses. The lynchpin joining the reverse and the forward auctions is the “repacking” process. Repacking involves reorganizing and assigning channels to the remaining broadcast television stations in order to create contiguous blocks of cleared spectrum suitable for flexible use. In order to be successful, each of the components must work together. Ultimately, the reverse auction requires information about how much bidders are willing to pay for spectrum licenses in the forward auction; and the forward auction requires information regarding what spectrum rights were tendered in the reverse auction, and at what price; and each of these depend on efficiently repacking the remaining broadcasters.

The reverse and forward auctions was integrated in a series of stages. Each stage will consist of a reverse auction and a forward auction. Prior to the first stage, the initial spectrum clearing target is determined. Broadcasters indicate through the pre-auction application process their willingness to relinquish spectrum usage rights at the opening prices. Based on broadcasters’ collective willingness, the initial spectrum clearing target will be set at the highest level possible (up to 126 megahertz of spectrum) without exceeding a pre-determined national aggregate cap on the interference between wireless providers and TV stations (“impairments”) created when TV stations must be assigned to the wireless band. Under this approach, the auction system will establish a band of wireless spectrum that is generally uniform in size across all markets. Then the reverse auction bidding process will be run to determine the total amount of incentive payments to broadcasters required to clear that amount of spectrum.

The forward auction bidding process will follow the reverse auction bidding process. If the “final stage rule” is satisfied, the forward auction bidding will continue until there is no excess demand, and then the incentive auction will close. If the final stage rule is not satisfied, additional stages will be run, with progressively lower spectrum targets in the reverse auction and less spectrum available in the forward auction. The final stage rule is a set of conditions that must be met in order to close the auction at the current clearing target; failure to satisfy the rule would result in running a new phase at the next lowest clearing target.

The FCC’s central objective in designing this incentive auction is to harness the economics of demand for spectrum in order to allow market forces to determine its highest and best use. We are also mindful of the other directives that Congress established for the auction, including making all reasonable efforts to preserve, as of the date of the passage of the Spectrum Act, the coverage area and population served of remaining broadcast licensees. The auction affords a unique opportunity for broadcasters who wish to relinquish some or all of their spectrum rights, but we emphasize that a broadcaster’s decision to participate in the reverse auction is wholly voluntary. In the descending clock auction format we chose, for example, a broadcaster need only decide whether it is willing to accept one or more prices offered to it as the reverse auction proceeds; if at any point the broadcaster decides a price is too low, it may drop out of the reverse auction. No station will be compensated less than the total price that it indicates it is willing to accept.

The FCC also recognizes the importance of broadcasters that choose not to participate in the reverse auction. To free up a portion of the UHF spectrum band for new, flexible uses, Congress authorized the Commission to reorganize the broadcast television spectrum so that the stations that remain on the air after the incentive auction occupy a smaller portion of the UHF band. The reorganization (or “repacking”) approach we adopted will avoid unnecessary disruption to broadcasters and consumers and ensure the continued availability of free, over-the-air television service.
Ultimately, our actions will benefit consumers of telecommunications services. While minimizing disruption to broadcast television service, we seek to rearrange the UHF spectrum in order to increase its potential to support the changing needs of 21st Century consumers. We recognize that the same individuals may be consumers of television, mobile broadband – using both licensed and unlicensed spectrum – and other telecommunications services. To benefit such consumers, and consistent with the framework of the Spectrum Act, we have strived for balance in our decision-making process between television and wireless services, and between licensed and unlicensed spectrum uses.

Band Plan:
FCC adopted a “600 MHz Band Plan” for new services in the reorganized UHF spectrum. By maximizing the spectrum’s value to potential bidders through features such as paired five megahertz “building blocks,” the Band Plan will help to ensure a successful auction. By accommodating variation in the amount of spectrum we recover in different areas, which depends on broadcaster participation and other factors, the Band Plan will ensure that the repurposing of spectrum for the benefit of most consumers nationwide is not limited by constraints in particular markets. The Band Plan will promote competition and innovation by creating opportunities for multiple license winners and for future as well as current wireless technologies. Because it is composed of a single band of paired spectrum blocks only, our Band Plan also simplifies the forward auction design. We adopt for new licensees flexible-use service rules, and technical rules similar to those governing the adjacent 700 MHz Band, an approach that should speed deployment in the 600 MHz band. Devices will be required to be interoperable across the entire new 600 MHz Band.

The FCC concluded that the 600 MHz Band Plan we adopt best supports our central goal of allowing market forces to determine the highest and best use of spectrum, as well as our other policy goals for the incentive auction, including the Commission’s five key policy goals for selecting a band plan. The Band Plan enhances the economic value and utility of the repurposed spectrum by enabling two-way (paired) transmissions throughout this well-propagating “coverage band.” This approach also simplifies auction design by offering only a single configuration – paired blocks – which allows for maximum interchangeability of blocks, and enables limited market variation, thus avoiding a “least common denominator” problem. It also provides certainty about the operating environment for forward auction bidders by establishing guard bands between television and wireless services in order to create spectrum blocks that are reasonably designed to protect against harmful interference. Further, the 600 MHz Band Plan promotes competition. By offering only paired blocks in a single band, and by licensing on a Partial Economic Area (“PEA”) basis, the 600 MHz Band Plan will promote participation by both larger and smaller wireless providers, including rural providers, and encourage new entrants. Finally, the 600 MHz Band Plan, composed of a single, paired band, promotes interoperability and international harmonization.

The 600 MHz Band Plan we adopt consists of paired uplink and downlink bands offered in 5 + 5 megahertz blocks. The uplink band will begin at channel 51 (698 MHz), followed by a duplex gap, and then the downlink band. We will license the 600 MHz Band on a geographic area license basis, using PEAs. Further, we will accommodate market variation: specifically, we will use the 600 MHz Band Plan in all areas where sufficient spectrum is available; and in constrained markets where less spectrum is available, we may offer fewer blocks, or impaired blocks, than what we offer generally in the 600 MHz Band Plan. Finally, we establish technically reasonable guard bands to prevent harmful interference and to ensure that the spectrum blocks are as interchangeable as possible.
Because the FCC did not know the exact number of blocks licensed or their frequencies until the incentive auction concludes, the 600 MHz Band Plan we adopted represents a framework for how to license the repurposed spectrum. The Technical Appendix sets forth each of the specific 600 MHz Band Plan scenarios based on the number of television channels cleared; ultimately, the repurposed spectrum will be licensed according to one of these scenarios.

The FCC noted that offering downlink-only blocks in the 600 MHz auction may undermine competition. Because providers must pair downlink-only blocks with existing spectrum holdings, new entrants would not be able to use downlink-only blocks, thus limiting their utility. In contrast, offering paired spectrum blocks will benefit all potential 600 MHz Band licensees. Further, offering downlink-only blocks would further complicate the auction design without a commensurate benefit. As explained above, downlink-only blocks are less valuable than paired blocks to bidders, and offering both paired and unpaired blocks would introduce additional differences among licenses in the forward auction and increase the amount of time the auction takes to close.

Finally, our all-paired band plan generally has nationally consistent blocks and guard bands, which will promote interoperability. In contrast, offering downlink-only blocks could exacerbate interoperability concerns by separating the 600 MHz Band into two bands. If we license both unpaired and paired blocks, we would expect that the industry standards body would create separate bands for the paired blocks and unpaired blocks, as it has done previously. If the 600 MHz Band were split into two separate bands, then some devices could support part, but not all, of the Band. Concerns were also raised over the potential for wireless carriers using downlink-only blocks to configure their networks so as to create barriers to roaming. Limiting the auction to paired blocks will help to ameliorate these concerns. It will also promote international harmonization, and in particular, should help to address cross-border issues with Canada and Mexico.

Repurposing for Mobile Use:
On 18 January 2017, the auction satisfied both of the conditions of the final stage rule, assuring that the auction will close in Stage 4. At $19.8 billion in gross revenue for 70 MHz of spectrum, the incentive auction is among the highest grossing auctions ever conducted by the FCC. The auction created a first-of-its-kind market for repurposing commercially-held spectrum licenses for new uses. The model is part of the foundation of the future of U.S. spectrum allocation and use policy designed for 21st century realities. The US incentive auctions started in March 2016 and has satisfied the rules for the final stage which means that 84 MHz (614-698 MHz) will be cleared from broadcasting including 70 MHz of licensed spectrum and 14 MHz for unlicensed.

Frequency arrangement from US incentive auction:
Following the conclusion of the incentive auction, the transition to the reorganized UHF band will be as rapid as possible without causing unnecessary disruption. Television stations that voluntarily turn in their licenses or agree to channel share must transition from their pre-auction channels within three months of receiving their reverse auction payments. The time required for stations reassigned to a new channel to modify their facilities will vary, so we will tailor their construction deadlines to their situations. This approach will ensure that stations transition as quickly as their circumstances allow, and allow coordination of deadlines where, for example, one station must vacate a channel before another can begin operating on its new channel. No station will be allowed to operate on a channel that has been reassigned or repurposed more than 39 months after the repacking process becomes effective. In other words, the repurposed spectrum will be cleared no later than 39 months after the effective date. Most new licensees should have access to 600 MHz spectrum well before then. Consistent with Congress’s mandate, we also establish procedures to reimburse costs reasonably incurred by stations that are reassigned to new channels, as well as by multichannel video programming distributors to continue to carry such stations.

As the U.S. Congress recognized, the incentive auction and the transition that follows require coordination with our cross-border neighbors, Canada and Mexico. Because of these common borders, the Commission has established processes and agreements to protect television and wireless operations in border areas from harmful interference. The FCC staff has used these processes to fully inform Canadian and Mexican officials regarding the incentive auction and, beginning in 2013, formed technical groups to meet routinely to plan for harmonious use of the reorganized UHF band following the incentive auction. Commission leadership has supplemented these efforts, meeting with their Canadian and Mexican counterparts to emphasize the need for and mutual benefits of harmonization. We are confident that the long and successful history of close cooperation with Canada and Mexico regarding the use of radio spectrum along our common borders will continue before, during, and after the incentive auction.

700 MHz:
The recovery of the 700 MHz Band was made possible by the conversion of television broadcasting from the existing analog transmission system to a digital transmission system. Because the digital television (DTV) transmission system is more spectrally efficient than the analog system, less spectrum will be needed for broadcast television service after the transition to DTV on channels 251 is complete. The USA which switched-off its analogue transmissions in 2009, and was the first Administration to relocate the channels 52 to 69 to advanced wireless service.

The successful auction of the 700 MHz band has facilitated a nationwide roll-out of IMT (LTE) deployments, including establishing valuable spectrum for public safety uses. The U.S. 700 MHz band plan divides the 698-806 MHz frequency range into a lower 700 MHz portion and an upper 700 MHz portion. The final band plan is available at:

To enable operability along border areas, the FCC has worked through bilateral coordination processes with its neighbours to address issues with variation in adopted band plans. The U.S. and APT FDD band plans are incompatible in their assignment of uplink and downlink spectrum therefore careful coordination of spectrum is required along the border areas. Due to overlapping base and mobile transmission of one band plan with base and mobile receiving frequencies of the other band plan, several interference scenarios can be found along the border.

According to a July 2012 survey, the U.S. 700 MHz ecosystem has grown rapidly to include 193 LTE device products including Modules for M2M, notebooks, phones, routers for hotspots, tablets and USB modems supported by over 18 manufacturers. 3GPP defines a number of bands in 700 MHz: Band 12: (Lower 700 MHz) 699 MHz-716 MHz /729 MHz-746 MHz; Band 13: (Upper C 700 MHz) 777 MHz-787 MHz /746 MHz-756 MHz; Band 14: (Upper D 700 MHz) 788 MHz798 MHz /758 MHz-768 MHz; Band 17: (Lower B, C 700 MHz) 704 MHz-716 MHz /734 MHz-746 MHz.

FCC: White spaces on hold till Microsoft and TV broadcasters have consensus

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will put aside its work freeing up TV white spaces until Microsoft and broadcasters reach an accord on sharing the spectrum for wireless broadband, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai told the House Communications Subcommittee. He cited “tricky” technical and policy matters the agency needs to address even as Microsoft and TV stations try to find middle ground on the band’s use.

Pai was asked by Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) about the status of the white spaces “experiment,” who said that probably every part of his district has such white spaces.  Pai said he had seen the promise of white spaces technology in places like South Boston, Va., a town in rural southern Virginia, 

The chairman said there had been a lot of “tricky” technical issues and policy issues the commission had been hammering out (a number of them involving how to use that spectrum without interfering with licensed broadcast transmissions nearby).

The FCC in March resolved a number of petitions to reconsider the remote sensing database works, which is how unlicensed mobile devices can use the spectrum without–hopefully–interfering with TV station signals. So far broadcasters have questioned the efficacy of that process.

The FCC is permitting the use of white space devices (notably computers), both fixed and mobile, in unused channels, ch. 37, guard bands between broadcast and wireless spectrum and between uplink and downlink spectrum in the 600 MHz band–which they are sharing after the incentive auction.

It is part of the FCC’s focus on freeing up more spectrum for advanced wireless and closing the rural digital divide, which computer companies argue “white spaces” play a key role.

Pai praised Microsoft, the prime mover behind a white spaces rural broadband project, and the National Association of Broadcasters, who have agreed on a number of outstanding issues, though not on Microsoft’s desire to use adjacent channels, which NAB has argued is too close for comfort.

“If there is a consensus that allows us to move forward, we would like to do so,” he said, though he could not provide a timeline.

Trump and FCC plan to accelerate 5G rollout in U.S.; FCC fund to connect rural areas

In a press conference today in the White House’s Roosevelt Room, President Trump laid out a number of initiatives focused on helping accelerate the U.S. role in the 5G race.

“This is, to me, the future,” Trump said, opening the press conference flanked by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai,  Ivanka Trump and a room full of communications representatives in cowboy and hard hats.

It’s all about 5G now,” Trump told the audience. “We were 4G and everyone was saying we had to get 4G, and then they said before that, ‘we have to get 3G,’ and now we have to get 5G. And 5G’s a big deal and that’s going to be there for a while. And at some point we’ll be talking about number six (6G).”

“5G will be as much as 100 times faster than the current 4G cellular networks.  The race to 5G is on and America must win,  It’s a race our great companies are now involved in,” Trump added.

Trump said a secure 5G network will transform how everyone communicates and create astonishing new opportunities in America.  “It will make American farms more productive, American manufacturing more competitive and American health care better and more accessible,” he said.

The apparently off-script moment echoed Trump’s recent call on Twitter for the U.S. to get 6G technology “as soon as possible.” There’s something to be said for the spirit, perhaps, but it’s probably a little soon to be jumping the gun on a technology that doesn’t really exist just yet.

Trump used the opportunity to downplay earlier rumors that the government might be building its own 5G  network, instead promoting a free-market method, while taking a shot at the government’s capabilities. “In the United States, our approach is private sector-driven and private sector-led,” he added. “The government doesn’t have to spend lots of money.”

“We cannot allowed any other country to out compete the United States in this power industry of the future,” Trump said. It’s important to note that China and the U.S. are fiercely competing in 5G adding to the tensions among the #1 and #2 global economies.

In recent months both the administration and the FCC  have been discussing ways to make America more competitive in the race to the soon-to-be-ubiquitous cellular technology. Earlier today, the FCC announced plans to hold the largest spectrum auction in U.S. history, offering up the bands to wireless carriers. The planned auction is set to commence on December 10th.  As much as 3.4 gigahertz of “millimeter-wave” spectrum could be sold by the FCC to wireless carriers such as AT&T and Verizon in the spectrum sale, according to Pai.

5G Speedometer

“Forward-thinking spectrum policy, modern infrastructure policy, and market-based network regulation form the heart of our strategy for realizing the promise of the 5G future.” – FCC Chairman Pai


Techcrunch said:

The focus is understandable, of course (AJW: really???). 5G’s value will go far beyond faster smartphones, providing connections for a wide range of IoT and smart technologies and potentially helping power things like robotics and autonomous vehicles. The technology will undeniably be a key economic driver, touching as of yet unseen portions of the U.S. workforce.

“To accelerate and incentivize these investments, my administration is freeing up as much wireless spectrum as needed,” Trump added, echoing Pai’s plans.

Earlier today Pai and the FCC also proposed a $20.4 billion fund design to help connect rural areas. The chairman said the commission believes the fund could connect as many as four million small businesses and residences to high-speed Internet over the course of the next decade.  The “Rural Digital Opportunity Fund” could launch later this year, after a period of public notice and comment.

The focus is understandable, of course. 5G’s value will go far beyond faster smartphones, providing connections for a wide range of IoT and smart technologies and potentially helping power things like robotics and autonomous vehicles. The technology will undeniably be a key economic driver, touching as of yet unseen portions of the U.S. workforce.



Trump, FCC unveil plan to accelerate 5G rollout


Posted in 5G Tagged

FCC to open spectrum above 95 GHz for new technologies

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has adopted rules to clear spectrum in the 95 GHz to 3 TeraHz frequencies for experimental use in order to ecnourage technological breakthroughs in communications.  It might even set the stage for 6G and beyond. The FCC will issue experimental licenses for up to 10 years and open 21.2 GHz of spectrum in that range for testing unlicensed devices.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai invited NYU Wireless Professor Ted Rappaport, who was instrumental in conducting ground-breaking millimeter wave research, to present his institution’s findings thus far on the opportunities afforded by the spectrum bands above 95 GHz, where “science fiction will become reality,” Rappaport told the commission.

The applications that become possible at these higher frequencies are kind of mind-blowing, he said. With so much bandwidth and wider bandwidth channels, you can start having data rates that approach the bandwidth needed to provide wireless cognition, where the computations of the human brain at those data rates could actually be sent on the fly over wireless. As such, you could have drones or robotics receive in real time the kind of perception and cognition that the human brain could do.

The conventional wisdom is that as you go higher in frequency, you get more loss. “That’s only if you use an omnidirectional antenna, the old way of doing cellular 10 and 20 years ago. When you start using directional antennas, what happens is, you actually do better as you go higher in frequency for a given power level and a given antenna physical size,” Rappaport said.

The FCC’s Spectrum Horizons First Report and Order creates a new category of experimental licenses for use of frequencies between 95 GHz and 3 THz. These licenses will give innovators the flexibility to conduct experiments lasting up to 10 years, and to more easily market equipment during the experimental period, according to the FCC.

The item also makes a total of 21.2 gigahertz of spectrum available for use by unlicensed devices. The Commission selected bands with propagation characteristics that will permit large numbers of unlicensed devices to use the spectrum, while limiting the potential for interference to existing governmental and scientific operations in the above-95 GHz bands, such as space research and atmospheric sensing.

The First Report and Order provides unprecedented opportunities for new experimental and unlicensed use in the frequencies above 95 GHz and will help ensure that the United States stays at the forefront of wireless innovation. Moreover, study of these uses could ultimately lead to further rulemaking actions and additional licensing opportunities within the Spectrum Horizons bands.

“Today, we take big steps towards making productive use of this spectrum,” Pai said in his statement. “We allocate a massive 21 gigahertz for unlicensed use and we create a new category of experimental licenses. This will give innovators strong incentives to develop new technologies using these airwaves while also protecting existing uses.”


Busting a Myth: 3GPP Roadmap to true 5G (IMT 2020) vs AT&T “standards-based 5G” in Austin, TX

TRUTH about 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) and the path to 5G Standards:

3GPP is a very honest, focused and effective engineering organization that develops technical specifications – not standards.  Not once has 3GPP contributed to the hype and spin embedded in  “5G” propaganda and fake news.  It is the 3GPP  member companies, service providers, and the press that’s guilty of that disinformation campaign.

From the 3GPP website under the heading Official Publications:

The 3GPP Technical Specifications and Technical Reports have, in themselves, no legal standing. They only become “official” when transposed into corresponding publications of the Partner Organizations (or the national / regional standards body acting as publisher for the Partner). At this point, the specifications are referred to as UMTS within ETSI and FOMA within ARIB/TTC.

Some TRs (mainly those with numbers of the form xx.8xx) are not intended for publication, but are retained as internal working documents of 3GPP. Once a Release is frozen (see definition in 3GPP TR 21.900), its specifications are published by the Partners.

All of the above and more were explained in this blog post, but apparently no one paid any attention as the claims of being compliant with “3GPP standards” abound.  Here are two from AT&T:

1.  After the 3GPP New Radio (NR) description/specification was completed in 3GPP Release 15:

“We’re proud to see the completion of this set of standards. Reaching this milestone enables the next phase of equipment availability and movement to interoperability testing and early 5G availability,” said Hank Kafka, VP Access Architecture and Analytics at AT&T. “It showcases the dedication and leadership of the industry participants in 3GPP to follow through on accelerating standards to allow for faster technology deployments,” he added.

2. In AT&Ts recent FCC application for an experimental radio license in Austin, TX, which is in this FCC filing:

3GPP has developed 5G standards that became available in 2018.”

That statement was echoed in a Light Reading blog post titled: AT&T to Show Off Standards-Based 5G in Austin.

My rebuttal in an email to AT&T executives included this paragraph:

As you should be very well aware, 3GPP specifications have no official status and are not standards (as per their website).  More importantly, 3GPPs “final 5G” spec will be in release 16 which won’t be completed till July 2019.  Release 16 and parts of Release 15 will then be submitted for consideration as an IMT 2020 Radio Interface Technology (RIT) at the July 2019 ITU-R WP5D meeting- the first meeting which will evaluate IMT 2020 RIT/SRITs.  All this info and much more is available at the 3GPP website with no log in required for access!

Here’s the actual status of 3GPP specs directed at 5G standards (IMT 2020) from 3GPP’s Submission of initial 5G description for IMT-2020:

IMT submissions

This document December 2017 version of 3GPP Release 15) is the first of three planned steps spanning two releases from 3GPP, following the decision to submit preliminary descriptions of the solution only when milestones of high relevance are achieved:

  • Release 15 December 2017 version;
  • Release 15 June 2018 version and
  • Release 16  (scheduled for July 2019)

The final and fully comprehensive 3GPP IMT-2020 submission (encompassing both Release 15 and Release 16) for IMT 2020 is planned for July 2019.

To help the ITU-R Evaluation Groups in their work, 3GPP is currently planning a workshop to present the 5G solutions to interested external bodies – specifically the Evaluation Groups – to allow a better understanding of the 3GPP technologies for 5G.

3GPP has agreed to organize a Workshop on 3GPP submission towards IMT-2020in October 2018. Some details are provided below:
•           Dates/Location:
–     October 24-25th, 2018;
–     Location: Brussels (European Commission facilities).
•           Target audience:
–     Independent Evaluation Groups, Regulators, Administrations, Industry Sectors interested in using 3GPP technologies.
•           Scope:
–     Present/describe the 3GPP IMT-2020 submission proposal
•           High level agenda/topics:
–     Specific technical features of the “5G” proposal
–     Submission templates
–     Self-Evaluation assumptions/results
–     Anticipations on the final submission with Rel. 15 and Rel. 16 contents
–     Overview of System Aspects

Here’s a free 3GPP webinar where you can get more information:


Comment from Kevin Flynn of 3GPP, which was inadvertently deleted when this website was move to a new compute server in early May 2019:

Kevin Flynn says:

Hi Alan,
I have now updated the 3GPP page on Official Publications (, referenced above. I hope that this does not undermine your excellent article in any way. I have updated the Partners & their web sites and modified the text to bring it up-to-date.

Thanks & best regards,
Kevin Flynn
3GPP Marketing Officer


Debunking the 5G carrier and vendor claims:

As we’ve repeatedly stated, ITU-R WP 5D is the official standards organization for IMT 2020 (5G mobile).  They will evaluate RIT/SRIT submissions at their July 2019 meeting.  To date, 3GPP, South Korea, China, ETSI/DECT Forum, and TDSI have all indicated their intent to submit detailed RIT/SRIT proposals at the July 2019 ITU-R WP 5D meeting.  There are significant differences amongst these proposed RITs which WP 5D must sort out and approve before the IMT 2020 standard is completed at the end of 2020.

Note also that there is NO IMT 2020 USE CASE FOR 5G FIXED WIRELESS ACCESS (FWA), so all claims about standards compliant 5G FWA (based on 3GPP release 155G NR – Non Stand Alone” are bogus/fake.

Non Stand Alone” (NSA) 5G NR means that a 4G-LTE network anchors the 5G NR access (see comments below this post).  That LTE network is used for control plane signaling and for the Evolved Packet Core (EPC).  In 5G NR NSA access, the LTE base station (eNB) and the 5G NR base station are interconnected with dual connectivity. The IMT 2020 standard will include a 5G packet core without any LTE components.

In addition to the IMT 2020 specified  (by ITU-R) packet core there is the transport network for 5G, which is described in this ITU-T Technical Report (TR).  There are fronthaul, midhaul and backhaul components described in that TR.  It is a work in progress.


AT&T to test “standards based 5G” at the Austin, TX Convention Center:

The FCC has just granted AT&T an experimental radio license to test what the mega carrier calls “standards-based 5G” in the convention center in Austin, Texas.  The test will begin at the end of July.   AT&T will run “up to 3” 28GHz fixed base stations in the convention center with connections to “up to 6” compatible user devices at up to 100 meters. AT&T promises demonstrations of 4K TV, volumetric video and eSports, as well mobile gaming, over the air, and more.

Indeed, Austin has been a hotbed for AT&T’s 5G developments. In February, the company announced plans to open a new 5G lab there. One of the first in-house projects built at the lab is the Advanced 5G NR Testbed System (ANTS), which AT&T describes as a first-of-its kind 5G testbed system that is proprietary to AT&T.

AT&T said in January 2018 that it plans to launch 3GPP release 15 based mobile 5G in up to 12 markets by the end of the year.  The mega carrier (and now via Time Warner acquisition an entertainment content company) has been using special events around the country to showcase its 5G technology.

In early June, AT&T staged its Shape conference at Time Warner’s Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, California, where it showed presentations on edge technologies, artificial intelligence and immersive entertainment, as well as a 5G demonstration with Ericsson and Intel.

At the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles, AT&T conducted a 28 GHz demo to give gamers an up-close look at how a 5G connection can give them a live gaming experience virtually anywhere there’s network coverage. That demo also involved Ericsson, Intel and ESL.

Also in June, there was the 2018 5G demo at the  U.S. Open, which took place at the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Tuckahoe, New York. Ericsson, Intel and Fox Sports were also participated in that demo.


Here are a few recent IEEE techblog posts related to AT&T’s 5G initiatives:
Addendum- 3GPP Release 16 and 17 RAN schedule as of Dec 14, 2019:
RAN R17 schedule

Apple asks FCC for “light touch” as it explores 95GHz to 3,000GHz wireless options

Executive Summary:

Apple has written to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) asking the agency to leave certain frequencies unlicensed or shared as it tests 95 GHz to 3,000 GHz wireless technology. A major part of this “5G” testing is working on millimeter wave radio spectrum, which was traditionally reserved for larger devices, such as radars, satellites and airport security scanners.  One year ago, we wrote that Apple would be testing millimeter wave technology in controlled facilities in Cupertino and Milpitas, California.  This is a follow up to that blog post


NOTE that millimeter wave spectrum has yet to be added to the IMT 2020 permitted frequencies.  Here’s the current status and future direction for IMT 2020 and “5G” spectrum:

The World Radiocommunication Conference 2015 (WRC-15) paved the way for the future development of IMT on higher frequency bands by identifying several frequencies for study within the 24.25-86 GHz range for possible identification for IMT under Agenda Item 1.13 of WRC-19 (see below).

The 24.25-27.5 and 37-43.5 GHz bands are prioritized within the ongoing ITU-R work in preparation for WRC-19 agenda item 1.13.  All geographical regions and countries are recommended to support the identification of these two bands for IMT during WRC-19 and should aim to harmonise technical conditions for use of these frequencies in 5G.

The frequency band of 27.5-29.5 GHz, though not included in the WRC-19 Agenda Item 1.13, is being considered for “5G” in the USA, South Korea and Japan, according to Huawei.

The first solid list of IMT 2020 frequencies will be set at the WRC-19 – World Radio Conference meeting- 28 October to 22 November 2019 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.

To date, the most definitive document approved by ITU-R for IMT 2020 has been: Minimum requirements related to technical performance for IMT-2020 radio interface(s)



Until recently, consumer products did not use millimeter wave radio spectrum, which the FCC allocated to large devices such as satellites, radars, and airport security scanners. Over time, however, technology companies found that the millimeter wave spectrum could be used to radically improve mobile devices’ data speeds.

Starting this year, “5G” fixed broadband access products (which have nothing to do with the forthcoming IMT 2020 standard for real “5G”) will begin to use radios operating in the 24GHz to 29GHz range, radically increasing data bandwidth over short distances.  Non-cellular wireless technologies such as next-generation Wi-Fi or Bluetooth could conceivably occupy other frequencies.


In a recent letter to the FCC,  Apple requested the agency to leave substantial portions of the ultra-high-frequency radio spectrum unlicensed or shared — a so called “light touch” to “5G” regulation.  That suggests the iPhone king is already considering potential applications of 95GHz to 3,000GHz wireless technology,

The Apple-FCC letter is focused on even higher-frequency spectrum. Specifically, the company says that the commission needs to avoid making the mistakes of prematurely or narrowly licensing radio frequencies above 95GHz, as researchers are already looking at 120GHz to 260GHz and 275GHz to 450GHz ranges for “high-speed, short range” purposes. The concern is that the FCC will sell licenses to small stripes of spectrum now, then have to claw them back later once technology companies determine their best uses — a situation that just played out with 5G millimeter wave licenses, with billions of dollars in consequences.

“Apple supports the Commission’s proposal for experimental licensing in the bands above 95 GHz and believes that adopting this flexible model will help to spur innovation in the band,” the company said in a May 2 letter, signed by Mark Neumann, a senior engineer at Apple.

“As the band is still largely greenfield, this is a rare opportunity to allow for freedom of exploration that does not exist in other bands and advantage should be taken,” Apple continued.

Apple told the FCC it favored a “light regulatory touch” that would leave a greater share of the spectrum unlicensed, and open for anyone to use.  Apple’s comments were in response to the FCC’s request seeking comments on how to regulate the high-bandwidth wireless spectrum, often referred to as “super high” spectrum. Apple believes that the current approach to regulation is too far in favor of established, licensed technologies, instead of emerging uses that a company like Apple might be interested in.

Apple offered the FCC two key suggestions to prepare for next-generation wireless technologies. First, it says the FCC should “increase the fraction of the spectrum that it opens to unlicensed spectrum” (including licensed-unlicensed spectrum sharing), rather than heavily preferring licensed technologies, as is the case today. Second, it suggests that the FCC increase the size of unlicensed bands beyond the “too narrow” 1GHz to 7GHz currently proposed, permitting more space for upcoming devices to aggregate spectrum for massive bandwidth. “Very wide bandwidth operations” would call for “20 gigahertz or more to function optimally,” Apple notes, and could have benefits for “environmental protection, human safety, and manufacturing.”

What is this spectrum good for?

Currently, the frequencies that Apple is commenting on are unused — or “greenfield,” as Apple puts it.  But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t many different scientists and industry researchers who are starting to come up with ideas for those frequencies.  The big advantage to millimeter wave is that it can achieve very high data rates, with much more bandwidth than current cellular networks.

“As Apple says in its filing no one really knows what’s going to happen with that very high spectrum. But since something will someday it’s time to create a mechanism to use it. Maybe not Apple’s preferred unlicensed mechanism,” wireless consultant Steve Crowley told Business Insider in an email. “Regulation takes time, the standardization process takes time, product development takes time. It doesn’t hurt to take the first step.”

The FCC took that first step earlier this year, by filing a notice inviting comment on its proposed rules, which is what Apple responded to. “Now, I realize that some are skeptical that this spectrum can be used productively,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in a statement earlier this year. “But the skeptics have been proven wrong before,” Pai added.

The more spectrum that remains unlicensed, the more likely it is that Apple can experiment in those radio frequencies and build them into its future products. The spectrum used by cellular networks is licensed, for example, but Wi-Fi uses unlicensed spectrum, which enabled Apple to use it in innovative ways, such as for wireless speakers and network syncing.

The FCC also makes money by auctioning licenses to specific bands of spectrum. And if FCC declares that  a new slice of spectrum is unlicensed, that means Apple can access it for free.  The question remains what it could be used for.  One possibility is to use those frequencies for infrastructure to enable “5G” or for fixed broadband access.

“I’d expect first uses of bands 95 GHz and above to be used for 5G small cell backhaul — interconnecting the millimeter wave cells connecting handsets, and fixed users, below 95 GHz,” Crowley told Business Insider. “Currently, bands under study (by whom?) include the so-called W-band (92-114 GHz) and D-band (130-175 GHz),” Crowley added.

Apple’s interest in millimeter wave:

Apple devices currently use Intel and Qualcomm modem chip sets to connect to cellular networks. The referenced FCC filing is only the latest sign that Apple is currently experimenting with millimeter wave technologies, which are expected to be a big part of “5G” networks, even if not used for mobile broadband access (see opinions above and below).

Apple has been testing millimeter wave technology in Cupertino, California since last May on the 28 GHz and 39 GHz, bands that are lower than the ultra-high spectrum Apple commented on.  Earlier this year, Apple applied to make both of its Cupertino, CA headquarters into “innovation zones” which would enable it to run tests more easily without regulatory headaches and applications.

Apple devices access spectrum in numerous licensed and unlicensed frequency bands. For example, iPhones use spectrum ranging from 13 megahertz (contactless payments via Apple Pay) to 5 gigahertz (802.11ac Wi-Fi with MIMO) and support more than 18 different LTE bands,” according to the Apple application, which was also signed by Neumann, the senior Apple engineer.

Last month, Apple pulled a job listing off of its site for a “mmWave IC design engineer,” which suggested it planned to build chips to work on 5G networks. Currently, Apple buys its modems from Qualcomm and Intel.

Experts have said that millimeter wave “might wind up being a kind of middle mile technology, connecting small cells which in turn connect to our phones or big ticket items like buses and home modem.”  Also, “This could be could be part of a wider system that Apple are working on in order to be able to serve more different devices perhaps expanding their own router system with millimeter wave.”

Apple CEO Tim Cook has said that Apple wants to own all of its core technologies— and that likely includes the modem chips that connect Apple devices to networks like those operated by Verizon and AT&T. But even if that’s not part of Apple’s plans, the company clearly wants to understand these extremely high frequencies well.


Opinion of Venture Beat:

It’s unlikely that Apple will actually use spectrum in the 95GHz to 3,000GHz range for consumer products anytime soon, but the fact that it’s even considering the future of next-generation and next-next-generation wireless right now is quite interesting — a hint that its planning horizon is closer to a decade or two than a year or two ahead of current trends.

Qualcomm president Cristiano Amon announces that 19 manufacturers and 18 carriers will be using Snapdragon X50 modems to roll out 5G devices to customers in 2019.  Image Credit: Jeremy Horwitz/VentureBeat


Apple now has four roads to a 5G iPhone, each challenging

Alan’s comment:

To its credit, Apple is one of very few technology companies to have made no public commitments regarding impending 5G technology.  Perhaps they will wait till all the hype, spin and nonsense fades into the background.