In July 2016, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to open up around 11GHz of bandwidth in the millimeter wave bands (mmWave) for 5G use -- 3.85GHz for licensed usage, and nearly 7GHz in a 64GHz to 71GHz unlicensed band. The new ruling adds 700MHz of spectrum in the 24GHz band and 1 GHz in the 47GHz band. (See Ready, Set, Go! FCC Votes for First 5G Spectrum.)
As we're already seeing, mmWave is foundational spectrum for 5G in the US. Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) is expecting to launch a fixed 5G service using 28GHz in 2018. (See Verizon's Fixed 5G: Are You Ready for the Wireless Gig Rush?)
Verizon has already gathered 28GHz licenses from its takeover of XO, however, and should get more from the Straight Path Communications Inc. acquisition. (See Verizon Buys Straight Path for $3.1B, Beating AT&T to 5G Spectrum.)
Other carriers will need the high-band auctions to get initial suitable mmWave spectrum for 5G. With the new band additions, more than 15GHz of high-band spectrum could become accessible for 5G. Carriers are planning to start for 100MHz channels with 5G, and so a massive new raft of spectrum is needed.
But -- to be clear -- it is not actually available yet. The FCC has not yet set a date for any high-band auctions. AT&T, for one, is calling for the auctions to be sooner rather than later. Stacey Black, assistant VP of federal regulatory policy, wrote in a blog Wednesday:
- Now that the Commission has the 5G ball rolling with spectrum allocations, we urgently need to get to the next step -- auctioning this newly allocated spectrum so that mobile broadband providers can deploy as quickly as possible. As an industry, we believe the best timing for auctioning the 28GHz and 37-40GHz bands is by December 2018. By this time, chipsets and equipment will be commercially available, FCC service rules will have been finalized, and standards will have evolved to a point that permits commercial 5G network deployments in 2019. While we understand that there are challenges for an auction next year, we must find a way to make this happen. This will be the most significant opportunity for the United States to shine as a global leader in 5G network development.
Expect the auction calls to become louder if the FCC drags its feet on further mmWave spectrum decisions.
— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading