5G may expand into 12.7GHz-13.25GHz next

Biden administration officials are in the midst of developing a national spectrum strategy. And officials at the FCC are eying the 12.7GHz-13.25GHz spectrum band for a possible 5G push.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies

September 19, 2022

5 Min Read
5G may expand into 12.7GHz-13.25GHz next

A number of top officials in the Biden administration are working to develop a unified and cohesive national spectrum strategy, which could be released within the next few months.

A big part of that strategy will involve allocating more spectrum for 5G. And already the FCC's chairwoman said she's eying the 12.7GHz-13.25GHz spectrum band as a possible location for the agency's next big spectrum push.

However, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel warned that "repurposing spectrum is not for the faint of heart." She explained that the growth of wireless communications in general – both among commercial and federal users – has put huge demands on the nation's finite spectrum resources. Thus, it's unclear when the 12.7GHz-13.25GHz spectrum band might be released for 5G, how it might be released to commercial users, and what types of stipulations might be imposed on operations in the band.

(To be clear, the 12.7GHz-13.25GHz spectrum band is different from the 12.2GHz-12.7GHz band that sits at the center of a years-long policy battle among companies including Dish Network, RS Access and SpaceX's Starlink. The FCC has said it is considering allowing 5G operations in that band, but has made no official decision on the matter.)

The fact that Biden administration officials are working on a national spectrum strategy, and that they're flagging the 12.7GHz-13.25GHz band as a location of interest, could indicate movement in 5G spectrum policy in general. That's important considering the FCC has no additional 5G spectrum auctions planned following a blizzard of recent midband spectrum auctions – CBRS, C-band, 3.45GHz and 2.5GHz – that have collectively generated a total of more than $100 billion in revenues.

Figure 1: (Source: Martin Shields/Alamy Stock Photo) (Source: Martin Shields/Alamy Stock Photo)

A plan for spectrum

"We need to free up more spectrum to unleash innovation," said Biden's Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo during an NTIA spectrum event this week.

During the NTIA event, Alan Davidson acknowledged that "we need a national spectrum strategy." Davidson is the agency's chief administrator.

"It's a process that we're going to go through," he said, adding that he expects the strategy to come together "in the coming months."

"Stay tuned for more on that," he said.

The development comes months after the FCC and NTIA agreed to tighten their relationship. That's critical considering the NTIA oversees federal spectrum usage, and many past FCC spectrum auctions for 5G have been based on airwaves released by federal users. It's also an important development in the 5G industry following years of inter-agency squabbles within the Trump administration.

This isn't the first time US government officials have called for a national strategy for spectrum. Trump signed a presidential memorandum calling for the creation of a new national strategy for 5G spectrum by July 2019, but it was never created.

The new discussions about a national spectrum strategy coincide with the recent release of a spectrum proposal from the nonprofit Aspen Institute. "As usage continues to grow and new wireless tools and services come online, our spectrum policies must meet the challenge. This is the time to develop a comprehensive plan, and act," Vivian Schiller, executive director of Aspen Digital, said in a release.

DoD, FAA concerns

But some federal officials at the NTIA event continued to warn that it will be difficult for them to release more spectrum for commercial uses, including 5G.

For example, James Linney of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said the agency typically operates on a 30-year planning horizon. Meaning, any changes to airplane or airport wireless systems developed today can't be implemented until the year 2052. "You wouldn't want a heart transplant system designed in a year," he explained.

Similarly, a top official for the US military said that the agency does not plan to release any of the lower 3GHz band for exclusive commercial use. That's noteworthy considering many in the 5G industry have been eyeing the 3.1GHz-3.45GHz spectrum band for another possible midband spectrum auction.

"For us to have to vacate this [3.1GHz-3.45GHz] part of the spectrum would be untenable," said John Sherman, the chief information officer for the US Department of Defense (DoD). He said it would take decades and hundreds of billions of dollars to shift US military radar out of that band.

But he suggested that "we can make sharing work."

He pointed to the recent establishment of the Partnering to Advance Trusted and Holistic Spectrum Solutions (PATHSS) Task Group within the National Spectrum Consortium (NSC). He said the group has already held 10 meetings – including four involving classified information – regarding the sharing of 3GHz spectrum with commercial users.

Further, Phil Murphy, an official with the NTIA, argued that spectrum sharing will be a key part of the nation's overall spectrum strategy in the future. He specifically mentioned ongoing work on incumbent-informing capability (IIC) technology as a way to implement sharing across different spectrum bands.

IIC technology could give the NTIA a "platform" for widespread spectrum sharing. "That could be a real tool for creating a better future," Murphy said.

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

About the Author(s)

Mike Dano

Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading

Mike Dano is Light Reading's Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies. Mike can be reached at [email protected], @mikeddano or on LinkedIn.

Based in Denver, Mike has covered the wireless industry as a journalist for almost two decades, first at RCR Wireless News and then at FierceWireless and recalls once writing a story about the transition from black and white to color screens on cell phones.

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