Major carrier AT&T on Wednesday commended the FCC for allocating a large amount of new spectrum for future 5G networks and asking the organization to have the spectrum's licenses auctioned out by December 2018. As seen in the most recent incentive auction, getting spectrum licenses auctioned off does not necessarily mean that the spectrum will be ready to use immediately; it has to be freed up from its current users, then the entity with the license for it has to prepare their existing network equipment to use it before deployment can even begin. This time frame for an auction would give current spectrum holders and wireless carriers just over a full year to transfer the licenses, revise the relevant equipment, and deploy the spectrum as a full 5G network in order to meet the widely held goal of 2020 for commercial 5G networks to become available.
AT&T's call to action is essentially asking that the auction process starts almost immediately, depending on how the auction will go. In last year's incentive auction, as an example, spectrum holders such as radio stations and TV broadcasters started the process by saying how much spectrum they were willing to give up and how much money they wanted for it. From there, buyers had to bid on the spectrum, trying to pay the least amount possible while still outbidding one another and also fulfilling the minimum set out in the initial stage of the process. Of course, this is only one possibility; there are many ways that spectrum auctions can be conducted, and the FCC could use almost any method to move the newly allocated spectrum as needed.
The spectrum in question lies in the 28GHz and 37-40GHz bands, making it valuable for the deployment of small cells, fixed wireless networks, and other short-range cellular technologies. While some carriers such as T-Mobile are planning on deploying 5G using low-band spectrum and new technologies, many others, such as Sprint, have already stated their intent to rely on small cells to deploy 5G networks, allowing for an easy setup wherein a single access point will serve only a few hundred customers at a time over a small area. High-band spectrum is also useful for LTE networks, which can act as a fallback for 5G, and services and technologies built around IoT, such as smart city projects.