NCTA calls out CTIA for ‘ill-conceived, last-minute push’ in 6 GHz band

NCTA — The Internet & Television Association (NCTA) told the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last week to reject calls by CTIA to consider auctioning off part of the 6 GHz band, and instead stick to the FCC’s plan to designate the entire 1200 megahertz for unlicensed use.

The 6 GHz band represents one of the most attractive places for the Wi-Fi community to ascertain more spectrum for unlicensed use. Big tech companies, including Apple, Facebook and Google, have been lobbying hard (PDF) for the ability to use the band for very low power devices deemed important for innovations such as in augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR). NCTA represents cable companies like Comcast and Charter Communications, among others. 

But CTIA, citing the need for more mid-band spectrum for 5G, has been urging the FCC to take a “balanced approach” to the 6 GHz band that opens the lower portion of the band for unlicensed use, while exploring the idea of repurposing the upper portion of the band for licensed uses. CTIA represents wireless carriers, including AT&T and Verizon.  

RELATED: 6 GHz band pits CTIA against Apple, Google and other tech behemoths

In its March 12 filing (PDF), NCTA said CTIA’s approach would delay wireless broadband access to 6 GHz by a decade. It called CTIA’s proposal an “ill-conceived, last-minute push” that would obstruct the “well-supported” path toward unlicensed access in the 6 GHz band that also protects incumbent users.

“The claim that clearing and auctioning half of the 6 GHz band would be ‘more consistent with global developments’ is entirely at odds with international harmonization efforts at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and with the activities of individual countries and regions that are leading the world in wireless technology,” the organization wrote.

At a recent ITU Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-10), there was a movement afoot by Huawei and Ericsson to get the 6 GHz band studied for mid-band 5G. But NCTA said there is no international study item for clearing the upper part of the 6 GHz band for licensed use. Instead, the 6 GHz study items at the ITU contemplate licensed users sharing spectrum with existing incumbents, “much as 5G NR-U operations would be able to share 6 GHz spectrum under the Commission’s proposal to designate the band for unlicensed use.”

RELATED: Tech giants challenge AT&T’s assessment of 6 GHz band for unlicensed use

“With existing unlicensed spectrum resources approaching exhaustion due to rapidly growing data demands from consumers and businesses across industries, the need for more wireless broadband spectrum is urgent,” wrote NCTA’s counsel, Danielle Piñeres. “The Commission has an unprecedented opportunity in the 6 GHz band to quickly put next-generation wireless capabilities to work for American consumers and cannot afford to let it pass. It should not change course now and delay these benefits.”

With the COVID-19 outbreak forcing more people to work from home, regulators are likely to see increased pressure to release more spectrum for all kinds of purposes, including Wi-Fi.

During a Senate Financial Services Subcommittee hearing last week, FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks said the FCC, in response to COVID-19, should consider expediting waivers and experimental licenses that will expand network capabilities and create additional Wi-Fi capacity by temporarily authorizing use of the 5.9 GHz band.

NCTA’s membership includes cable companies like Comcast and Charter Communications as well as the likes of Disney Media, C-SPAN, Fox Networks, Showtime Networks and WarnerMedia. Midco and Federated Wireless also are members.