Spectrum

Federal spectrum key to U.S. 5G

radio spectrum 

Legislation pending in Congress that would push federally owned spectrum to commercial use is crucial to keeping the U.S. in the global race for 5G high-speed mobile broadband technology, a new study by the wireless industry said.

"The federal government needs to move forward on releasing hundreds of MHz of new spectrum, and every level of government needs to act to modernize infrastructure rules," said a report from the trade association CTIA on the global race to 5G.

The study called out the Airwaves Act in the House and a companion bill in the Senate as important pieces in the U.S. 5G spectrum effort. The legislation would establish a more reliable pipeline for moving federal spectrum into commercial hands for both licensed and unlicensed services by laying out timelines to auctions a series of low-, mid- and high-bandwidth spectrum over the next five years.

The study also applauded federal and local government efforts to modernize the siting of cell towers and equipment on government properties.

The report listed China as the world's leader in 5G, followed by the United Kingdom, Japan and South Korea. The U.S. is lagging by comparison.

All major Chinese wireless providers have set specific launch dates for ultra-fast services, and China's government has committed to providing those companies with at least 100 MHz of mid-band spectrum and 2,000 MHz of high-band spectrum per provider, according to the study.

The U.S., it said, needs similar tangible, federally backed spectrum roadmaps that commercial providers can rely on for a steady supply of airwaves for their services.

The study noted that U.S. policymakers have been moving toward a steadier supply of suitable spectrum, especially spectrum vacated or made available by federal agencies. It said it identified 11 GHz of millimeter-wave spectrum in 2016 and another 1700 MHz in 2017.

The Federal Communications Commission on April 17 voted to go ahead with a November auction of 24 GHz and 28 GHz spectrum, which it expects will be highly suitable for 5G services. On April 18, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said the commission would vote in May about opening up spectrum in the 2.5 GHz range for 5 G applications.

The study also said the federal government should continue its emphasis on finding more federally-owned spectrum, through National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the Department of Defense and the Federal Aviation Administration, to clear spectrum in the 1.3 GHz, 1.7 GHz, and 3.4 GHz bands.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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