Insight: Wireless Spectrum Developments

Posted by Mae Kowalke on Monday, April 27, 2015 with No comments

In both the U.S. and Europe, there has been some recent, noteworthy regulatory activity surrounding wireless spectrum for mobile telecom use. And, more is on the horizon as 5G takes shape and industry groups unite around changes needed to move toward the next generation of mobile broadband. 

Earlier this month, after working on rules for more than two years, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to adopt a new set of spectrum sharing policies and tools that will make 150 MHz of spectrum available for commercial and mobile broadband use. 

Fierce Wireless reported that the relevant radio waves sit in the 3.5 GHz band, previously reserved for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). Ideal for small cells, this band also has potential for other, to-be-determined applications as well. It's thus been dubbed the "innovation band."

The FCC's 3.5 GHz 'Report and Order' outlines a three-tiered sharing paradigm, Fierce Wireless said:
  • General Authorized Access (GAA), open to anyone with FCC-certified devices, at no cost to commercial broadband users
  • Priority Access License (PAL), involving targeted, short-term licenses (acquired via auction) to protect against GAA interference
  • Incumbent Federal and commercial users (radar, satellite, etc.) are protected from all Citizen Broadband Service users 
The availability of this band raises some concerns, among other things, about LTE Assisted Access (LAA) technology, which 3GPP is in the process of setting standards for. Specifically, Fierce Wireless noted, Wi-Fi providers worry they'll be negatively impacted if cellular operators deploy LAA in unlicensed bands. The FCC says it's on top of this; by mid-May, it plans to issues a public notice interested parties can comment on regarding LAA standards-making and how that relates to 3.5 GHz and other bands. 

It's worth pointing out that the FCC was able to issue this new spectrum policy because of cooperation from other agencies--including, significantly, the DoD. 

As Fierce Wireless explained, the DoD agreed to exclusion zones significantly smaller than originally proposed, opening up 150 MHz previously unavailable for consumer and commercial use. 

On a related noted, the Competitive Carriers Association is urging the FCC to go ahead with a planned incentive auction--slated for 2016--that would be open to smaller carriers, RCR Wireless said

The auction would include spectrum in the 600 MHz band--part of the spectrum returned by broadcasters as part of the reverse-auction process. The intention is to auction this spectrum off for mobile communication use. Rural and regional carriers see it as crucial to effectively offer services in underserved areas. 

Meanwhile, across the pond, U.K. regulatory Ofcom recently identified a preliminary set of bands in the 6-100 GHz range it thinks holds promise for 5G use both in the U.K. and globally. Fierce Wireless reported that Ofcom issued a Call for Input outlining these bands. There's no guarantee the bands in question will be adopted; other options may be proposed leading up to the World Radio Communication Conference 2015 this coming November. 

Light Reading pointed out that Ofcom's set of bands described here is merely a recommendation; other options will emerge from WRC 2015. Also, 5G will almost certainly involve a mix of above-6Ghz and sub-6GHz bands. 

Finally, to return to Wi-Fi for a moment, ABI Research recently said that use of dual-band Wi-Fi devices (using 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz spectrum) now surpasses single-band devices. 

Fierce Wireless noted that widespread adoption of Wi-Fi certified ac products (smartphones, tablets, consumer electronics) has pushed 5 GHz into the spotlight, especially for the consumer market. (Dual-band in the enterprise market is old news.) 
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