FCC Commissioner Carr outlines 5G spectrum priorities

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr on Monday outlined his 5G priorities for the coming years, with spectrum getting top billing.

“With all the work we’ve been doing over the past four years, we now have a lot of spectrum in the pipeline,” Carr said during keynote remarks (PDF) at the American Enterprise Institute. “The key is to make sure we get those airwaves out into the commercial marketplace as quickly as possible.”

That includes holding respective auctions for 100-megahertz of spectrum in the 3.45-3.55 GHz band, and more than 100-megahertz in the 2.5 GHz band.

RELATED: FCC starts moving on unique 2.5 GHz auction, license areas

As the Republican commissioner acknowledged, many of the actions on his agenda are already in the works.

The FCC is slated to vote this Wednesday on a proposed order (PDF) as well as Public Notice (PDF) for input on auction procedures, circulated by FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel last month, for the 3.45 GHz band.

As for 2.5 GHz EBS licenses, or Auction 108, Carr said: “We’ve already put the leg work in to get this across the finish line later this year,” with a public notice issued in January.

Former FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's departure earlier this year paved the way for the Biden administration to appoint a Democratic majority, but the commission currently remains split with four members.   

Increasing CBRS power levels

In 2021 Carr also wants the FCC to seek input on increasing the power levels for operations in the shared Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) 3.5 GHz band.

AT&T was among operators asking for higher CBRS power levels back in 2019. Countries around the globe are using the 3.5 GHz band for 5G, and Carr noted that higher power limits would help align the U.S. with international standards. The CBRS band also sits between the 3.45 GHz band to be auctioned as well as the 3.7 GHz C-band that carriers just spent more than $81 billion to acquire licenses in – and he said increased power limits could span those 3 GHz band operations.

“We should take the real-world experience we’re gaining with CBRS builds and coordinate with federal users as we look at increasing the power levels here,” Carr said in prepared remarks. “Getting this done will help extend the reach of 5G services to even more Americans.”

RELATED: WISPA urges using two license sizes for 3.45 GHz auction

Other spectrum items on Carr’s list for 2021 include allowing very low power devices (VLP) to operate in the 6 GHz band at 14 dBm, as well as client-to-client device communications in the band.

For VLP devices, he said it’s key for 5G “because it would help power the AR/VR and other applications that will drive consumer demand for 5G devices.” It would also align with what other countries like Brazil have done.

A final spectrum item on the commissioner’s agenda for 2021 is updated rules for frequencies between 5470-5725 MHz, which Carr contends would help make it more actively utilized.

“This band contains a large, 255 megahertz-wide swath of unlicensed spectrum that is vastly underutilized today – indeed, equipment manufacturers don’t even bother to include the band in many 5 GHz Wi-Fi devices,” he said.

The current rules are meant to protect federal users in the band, but he wants the FCC to explore whether technology advances could keep incumbent users protected while allowing more access for unlicensed use.

2022 and beyond

Next year, the agency should tee up an auction for 50-megahertz between 1.3-1.35 GHz, which the FCC and NTIA have been exploring. And also hold another mmWave auction, with Carr pointing to the 42 GHz band as the next prime candidate.

Beyond 2022, he cited the lower 3 GHz band, 4.8 GHz, 7.125-8.4 GHz, and spectrum above 95 GHz (including terahertz bands that could be useful in 6G) as main priorities.  

Along with spectrum, Carr’s plan targets (PDF) infrastructure rules and policy aimed at making it easier for those looking to deploy on federal lands and in rural areas.