FCC Commissioner Wants To Free Mid-Band Spectrum For 5G

FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly, current leader of Consumers Broadband Radio Service efforts in the United States, announced that he is working on freeing up a large amount of mid-band spectrum, and hopes to have enough up for use in the next two years to create a full 5G network. Specifically, O'Rielly is looking to free up around 150MHz of spectrum, all in the commonly-used 3.5GHz band. This band is already in use in preliminary 5G networks and tests, and lies within the purview of the CBRS. Thus far, neither O'Rielly or the FCC have issued any word on what the plan is to free up this spectrum.

The FCC is reportedly also looking into freeing both licensed and unlicensed spectrum in the 5.9GHz and 6GHz bands, with likewise little insight given into how this will happen. 4.9GHz is also included in the plans, and things are a bit more concrete here; most 4.9GHz spectrum out right now is unlicensed and mostly unused. What is licensed and in active use only accounts for about 3% of what's available in that band area. This means that the FCC could easily issue licenses for this area without much of any consequence, so long as it stays away from spectrum used for emergency services. Also included in the FCC's near-future plans is a hard look at cities and states that are blocking off 5G deployment by imposing unreasonable fees on small cell deployment, moving too slowly on legal matters, or otherwise holding things up. If the FCC manages to liberate the planned spectrum, it will have to decide whether to issue wide or narrow geographical licenses, and who to issue those to.

The CBRS has long promised to make it easy for companies to build out IoT and other niche services that will run on and alongside mobile providers' 5G deployments, and the FCC's plans for 3.5GHz seem to back that up. Plans to expand spectrum availability in a wider part of the mid-band range, meanwhile, back up O'Rielly's own assertion that the FCC is looking to prevent other countries from pulling ahead of the United States in 5G adoption and deployment.

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