Carriers may see millimeter wave spectrum before 600 MHz
Federal Communications Commission set to vote on 5G spectrum July 14
As the timeline for the 600 MHz spectrum auction appears to lengthen, wireless carriers will be keeping a close eye on this month’s FCC vote on high-band spectrum. Carriers could get access to high-band spectrum before they get access to the low-band broadcast spectrum.
TV broadcasters are asking for more than $86 billion in exchange for their spectrum in the 600 MHz band, so it seems likely that the FCC will need to conduct another round of reverse auctions in order to find a price that the bidders for this low-band spectrum can afford. Meanwhile, the agency is preparing to vote next week on making high-band spectrum available to wireless carriers.
“By opening up these higher-frequency bands, we are making available more licensed spectrum for mobile than in the cumulative history of mobile spectrum allocation,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said last month. “And, what we’ll be considering on July 14 is not just licensed spectrum. Unlicensed will continue to play a critical role in future 5G networks. Our plan proposes making a massive 14 gigahertz unlicensed band. Our plan proposes making a massive 14 gigahertz unlicensed band.”
“They’re going to be making a huge amount of spectrum available in the millimeter wave bands,” said analyst Craig Moffett of MoffettNathanson. “While that spectrum is expected to sell for a small fraction of the price per megahertz pop that we’re used to thinking about in lower frequencies, we’re also talking about spectrum bands that are an order of magnitude larger than the spectrum bands that we’re used to, so that total expenditures may not be all that different.”
The FCC has not yet said when it might release the spectrum, but Moffett expects it to happen before the agency finishes the process of auctioning and clearing the broadcast spectrum in the 600 MHz band.
“It’s highly likely that it will happen before 2020 when they get their hands on the 600 MHz auction,” said Moffett, adding that carriers will need to budget for expected spending on the millimeter wave spectrum as well as on the 600 MHz spectrum.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler would like to see high-band spectrum deployed sooner rather than later. In a speech last month Wheeler said he wants the U.S. to be “first out of the gate” with 5G technologies that he believes will be enabled by high-band spectrum.
“Opening up spectrum and offering flexibility to operators and innovators is the most important thing we can do to enable the 5G revolution,” said Wheeler. “If the Commission approves my proposal next month, the United States will be the first country in the world to open up high-band spectrum for 5G networks and applications. And that’s damn important because it means U.S. companies will be first out of the gate.”
High-band spectrum can offer the lower latency that is critical for many Internet of Things applications. Signals cannot travel as far as they can on low-band spectrum, but response times can be lower. Wheeler said last month that while advances in antenna technology are unlocking the potential of this spectrum, the market will ultimately dictate the successful 5G use cases.
“If anyone tells you they know the details of what 5G will deliver, walk the other way,” he said.