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'Spectrum Now' Act Takes Aim at Mid-Band Spectrum

Jeff Baumgartner
6/25/2019
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In a move designed to free up key mid-band capacity for future 5G services, a bipartisan bill introduced Tuesday in the US Senate could repurpose a 100-MHz-wide swath of federally held spectrum.

The bill is called Spectrum Now, an acronym for this mouthful: Supplementing the Pipeline for Efficient Control of The Resources for Users Making New Opportunities for Wireless.

The bill puts the 3450MHz-3550MHz band under the microscope, and is billed as a move that "creates a pathway for agencies to modify their operations on federally-held spectrum to make those frequencies available for commercial wireless broadband use."

"Federal agencies own a huge portion of spectrum licenses, but in many cases, the federal government is not utilizing this spectrum," Guthrie said in a statement.

The bill also aims to pave the way for agencies to use Spectrum Relocation Fund (SRF) dollars to study ways to boost spectrum efficiency and make more spectrum available for commercial wireless use. It also calls on the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to work with the FCC and other federal agencies about whether the spectrum could be made available on an unlicensed basis, if a study finds that it could not be made available for auction on a licensed basis.

The bill was introduced by US Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation; Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet; U.S. Rep Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), vice chair of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology; and Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.).

Why this matters
The bill builds on a groundswell of support and desire from the government and other mobile and wireless players to free up mid-band spectrum for 5G that delivers on both capacity and coverage.

That desire has been stoked as the initial wave of 5G deployments in the US tap into millimeter wave spectrum that supports high data capacities but is limited by its short range and ability to deal with trees, buildings and other obstacles.

The US cable industry, which has wireless and mobile ambitions but not much spectrum to call its own, applauded the proposed approach. Spectrum Now "sets up a process to consider unlicensed sharing in specific federal spectrum bands that cannot be auctioned," NCTA, cable's top lobbying group, said in a statement. The bill "could help ensure that our nation's spectrum resources are put to their highest and best use," it added.

Notably, the focus of Spectrum Now focuses on a band that is adjacent to the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) 3.5GHz band, which, under a shared model, will support both licensed and unlicensed use cases. CBRS has drawn significant interest from the US cable industry. Licensed portions of CBRS are expected to be auctioned in 2020.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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