CTIA: DOD report fails to reflect U.S. standing in race to 5G

CTIA appreciates the recognition on the part of the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) that 5G success will require low-, mid- and high-band spectrum, but it’s taking issue with a recent report on 5G by the Defense Innovation Board (DIB) that it says misrepresents the status of 5G in the U.S.

Among the inaccuracies in the DIB report, according to CTIA: It devalues the importance of high-band, or millimeter wave (mmWave), spectrum for 5G; wrongly prioritizes sharing over exclusive-use licensed spectrum; and fails to accurately reflect the U.S. commercial industry’s standing in the race to 5G. CTIA outlined its concerns in a letter to Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan on Thursday.

“Without question, the wireless industry agrees with the finding that the U.S. needs additional midband spectrum for 5G over and above the 2.5 GHz and 3.5 GHz bands, but these efforts should not come at the expense of continued actions to maintain U.S. global leadership in high-band spectrum,” CTIA wrote. “The report ultimately offers a false choice and is wrong to suggest that U.S. efforts to free up high-band spectrum are misplaced. The U.S. needs a mix of all different complementary spectrum bands, as the ‘5G Fast Plan’ launched by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai makes clear.”

In a footnote, CTIA said the FCC’s 3.7 GHz proceeding is critical to U.S. midband policy, and the FCC should move to release hundreds of megahertz for 5G as quickly as possible. But the DIB report “seems to undermine those efforts by only calling for the adoption of new ‘fixed operations’ in the band, and ignoring that the wireless industry is focused on the band for 5G mobility,” CTIA said. “This likely reflects the contributions of DIB members, including Google and Microsoft executives, whose companies support the fixed deployment proposal for the band.”

According to the DIB report, the DOD and FCC should flip their prioritization from mmWave to sub-6 GHz spectrum for 5G. The DOD and FCC have been prioritizing the 28 GHz and 37 GHz bandwidths as options for 5G development, “but this effort is misplaced,” according to the DIB report, whose co-authors are Milo Medin, VP of Wireless Services at Google, and Gilman Louie, partner at Alsop Louie Partners venture capital firm. “This study has covered the broad range of limitations associated with mmWave, and reasons why the rest of the world will adopt a sub-6 GHz 5G ecosystem. In light of this, DOD must prepare itself for that future operating environment by focusing on co-existing, if not explicitly sharing, with civil 5G operations in those bands of spectrum.”

CTIA responded that exclusive-use licenses have long been the cornerstone of the nation's successful wireless strategy, and they form the backbone of its mobile networks today.

“U.S. leadership in 4G was built on exclusive-use spectrum, which generated massive investment by the private sector—$226 billion in infrastructure and $114 billion in spectrum auction bids,” CTIA said, adding that a similar private-sector led effort should drive the deployment of 5G networks.

The DIB report said China has taken the lead in 5G development through a series of aggressive investment and spectrum-allocation initiatives. In addition to investing $180 billion in capital expenditure for 5G deployment over five years, China assigned 200 MHz of midband spectrum to its three state providers and is considering reallocating 500 MHz of C-band spectrum as well.

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CTIA said the report is also wrong to conclude that the U.S. is “not likely” to be the world leader in 5G. The U.S. already leads the world in commercial 5G deployments and, together with China, leads the world in overall global 5G readiness, according to CTIA, citing a 2019 report released by Analysys Mason.