FCC's acting chair voices support for spectrum sharing

The acting head of the FCC says she supports "creativity" when it comes to spectrum management.

And that position may not sit well with big network operators like Verizon and T-Mobile.

President Biden appointed Jessica Rosenworcel as the new acting chairwoman of the FCC last month, and she chaired her first commission meeting in that position Wednesday. In a follow-up call with reporters, Rosenworcel said she supports inventive approaches to spectrum management, including spectrum sharing.

"We're going to have to get creative about the policies we put in place," she explained, pointing to the sharing model developed for the 3.5GHz CBRS band as a "terrific example."

She continued: "I think that kind of creativity is terrific. It's something that I think we're going to need to study going forward, because as we scour the airwaves for more opportunities for commercial services, we're going to need to be mindful of the fact that there are just many more actors who are going to want access to spectrum. And more ways to be creative and efficient are going to be important."

Those comments run in direct opposition to the stated position of the CTIA, the trade group that represents the big 5G network operators. In recent comments to the FCC, the group called for "exclusive-use operations" in spectrum bands such as the 3.45-3.55GHz band that the FCC is expected to auction sometime this year.

Others agree. For example, T-Mobile recently argued that spectrum sharing "should be as limited as possible," and that commercial operators should continue to get exclusive access to spectrum, as they have in the past.

The debate is noteworthy considering the US Department of Defense (DoD) currently sits on a vast swath of midband spectrum in the lower 3GHz band, and has been flatly opposed to releasing that spectrum on an exclusive basis to 5G operators.

"The Department recognizes the importance of US wireless leadership to the nation's economic prosperity, and 5G technologies mark a critical pivot for spectrum policy, technology innovation and national security," the DoD wrote in a report last year. "The traditional model of static frequency allocation is not sufficient, and a new model is needed to address the growing demand for access to an increasingly congested and constrained EMS [Electromagnetic Spectrum]."

Thus, it appears that the DoD may have an ally at the FCC.

Others agree that spectrum sharing is the way forward. For example, Federated Wireless urged the FCC to expand the sharing scenario developed for the CBRS band into the 3.45-3.55GHz band. "The CBRS sharing framework is well-established and can be leveraged immediately to enable spectrum access even as federal users begin their transition," the company wrote.

The FCC is widely expected to vote on rules for the 3.45-3.55GHz band in the coming months as it prepares to auction the spectrum later this year. Further, the agency is expected to release additional spectrum bands for 5G in the coming months and years.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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