Top Down or Bottom Up, FCC's 5G Broadband Wireless Ruling Looks Good Either Way

Even as 5G Standards Remain Undefined, FCC's 'Spectrum Frontiers' Illuminates a Path Forward

Last week, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted in favor of a new wireless broadband roadmap, aka "Spectrum Frontiers, which designates 11 GHz of licensed high-speed spectrum for LTE and 5G infrastructure, and which set rules use of 7GHz of unlicensed airwaves. Even as debates continue over the definition and standard of what is 5G, the FCC has stepped up to the plate and shown it is ready to work with industry to meet grand new goals the entire ICT ecosystem has come to expect from the next era of LTE and broadband wireless.

Intel's CEO Brian Krzanich said that Intel appreciates the decision to grant terrestrial 5G full access to the 28 and 37-40 bands as well as unlicensed use in 64-71 GHz bands, calling it an investment-friendly act that will spur development of 5G in the U.S and other countries.

"Consumers and businesses are going to start benefitting from 5G much faster than generally expected and the FCC's bi-partisan decision today is crucial to accelerating this phenomenon," Krzanich said.

Intel, Qualcomm, and other suppliers to the growing connected device marketplace should be happy with the provisions to foster growth in the unlicensed spectrum bands.  "Frontiers" makes available 7 GHz of unlicensed spectrum. According to the FCC, when combined with the existing high-band unlicensed spectrum (57-64 GHz), the new allocation doubles the amount of high-band unlicensed spectrum to 14 GHz of contiguous unlicensed spectrum (57-71 GHz); this total 14 GHz will be 15 times as much as all unlicensed Wi-Fi spectrum in lower bands.

First and foremost, as should be expected, the announcement has got the industry fired up about 5G, and the fact that the US is positioned to compete with countries such as China and South Korea to enable widespread investment and deployment in the marketplace. The Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA), which represents the manufacturers and suppliers of telecom networks in the US, commended the FCC's adoption of Spectrum Frontiers, and said the plan will help advance U.S. 5G leadership. The rules open four new bands of high-frequency "millimeter-wave" spectrum above 24 GHz to mobile devices, and make the United States the only country to date that has opened high-band spectrum for 5G networks.

TIA CEO Scott Belcher said, "The FCC has gotten it right with Spectrum Frontiers, and the U.S. is now in a stronger position to innovate and accelerate towards 5G. The FCC's plan frees a significant amount of new spectrum for mobile use, and does so without attaching strings or taking a wait-and-see approach. In this way, Spectrum Frontiers provides both the fuel that will be demanded by next-generation networks, and the predictability that is needed by technology companies."

"To be clear," Belcher continued, "as the world pushes towards the next-generation mobile network, our country doesn't have the competitive advantage that it had with 4G. U.S. companies face a far more challenging environment, and the stakes are extremely high for their businesses and our economy. The world's 5G leaders will be able to sell their technologies globally and shape the wireless landscape for years to come. Spectrum Frontiers will help U.S. companies move forward with 5G development more quickly and with greater confidence."

Doug Brake, telecommunications policy analyst at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a tech policy think tank, said the outcome of the vote is a "bright spot" in recent FCC rulemakings.

Brake continued to say, "By freeing up this millimeter-wave spectrum to be capitalized upon by new technology, the FCC is putting the United States on the path for leadership in deploying 5G wireless systems. This is the first authorization of this kind in the world - the FCC deserves praise for being a first-mover in clearing the way for innovative new uses of this spectrum."

Cambridge Broadband Networks Ltd (CBNL) is on the front line with operators on the march to 5G, and may be among the first wave of companies to benefit from business opportunities the ruling is intended to enable.

CBNL's VectaStar is a point to multipoint microwave platform, and the company offers network RF planning and mobile network design, system integration, and network management services. Even before the ruling, it began working closely with US carriers to build pre-5G networks in nine states.

According to CBNL's VP North America, Mark Ashford, US operators are now in a position to leverage existing high frequency technology to realize immediate fixed wires opportunities, and to accelerate cellular densification with more efficient high capacity backhaul and small cells.

The FCC's Spectrum Frontiers Fact sheet states, "The rules create effective sharing schemes to ensure that diverse users – including federal and non-federal, satellite and terrestrial, and fixed and mobile – can co-exist, and that federal uses can be protected and expand."

Ashford says that in the longer term view, these flexible spectrum use provisions suggest opportunities for innovation will emerge, as many 5G applications, including mobility, will be supported in the same bands.

The FCC even seems to have created some common ground for satellite operators and the terrestrial mobile network operators to work together out of the same playbook. The ruling also "creates a path for continued and expanded satellite operations in the 28 GHz, 37 GHz, and 39 GHz bands," according to the FCC, and "adopts several mechanisms to provide flexibility to satellite operators and predictability to terrestrial operators."

One area to watch for the right balance of market flexibility with judicious regulation will be on the security front. While the FCC highlights its commitment to, and the importance of, making 5G networks safe, if is not clear how efficiently the integration or implementation of security-specific requirements will be.

The FCC Fact Sheet says, "The rules promote security by design without creating a significant regulatory burden.  To promote an open dialogue about security practices, the rules require licensees to file a statement before deployment that includes, at a high level, certain security-related information, such as a description of participation in standards body security work, a basic description of its intended approach to security, and the implications their security by design approach will have for other parts of the 5G ecosystem."

While the announcement of the new rules has been well received, TIA's Belcher added that much of the real work still lies ahead. "The new rules must be implemented in ways that deliver on the FCC's promise of a flexible approach, and we must continue to find new and creative ways to address our insatiable demand for more bandwidth."

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