FCC chair tees up plan for single auction of 37, 39, 47 GHz bands in 2019

The FCC at its August meeting is going to consider Chairman Ajit Pai’s plan to move forward with a single auction of the 37, 39 and 47 GHz bands in the second half of 2019.

Pai announced the plan in a blog post today that was posted after his appearance at the International Telecommunication Union’s Global Symposium for Regulators in Geneva, where he delivered remarks about the FCC’s strategy for dealing with emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning. 

The announcement should come as good news to wireless operators, many of which were calling on the FCC to hold one big auction with multiple millimeter wave bands. They’re not getting exactly what they wanted, however. Earlier this year, for example, T-Mobile pressed (PDF) the FCC to swiftly auction the 28, 37, 39, 24 and 47 GHz bands combined in 2018, but of course that didn’t happen.

RELATED: FCC chief wants to auction 28 GHz spectrum this November

Pai said that as part of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking the commission will consider at its August meeting, he's proposing to have 100 MHz license blocks for the 37, 39 and 47 GHz bands, so they can more easily be auctioned together. "These are important steps that will help solidify U.S. leadership in 5G," he said.

In addition, he's going to propose rules to clean up the 39 GHz band in a move to make the 39 GHz band as attractive as possible for new bidders while consolidating incumbent spectrum licenses into more usable blocks.

The FCC also is due at its August meeting to finalize the rules for the November 28 GHz auction and the separate 24 GHz auction to follow thereafter. “With so many wanting so much spectrum for 5G, we’re moving as quickly as possible to make these bands available for commercial use,” Pai said. “Adopting these rules will pave the way for auctioning these 5G-critical airwaves and allow us to start the bidding on November 14.”

CTIA has been urging the FCC to release more spectrum—mid-band in particular—so that the U.S. will remain competitive in the race to 5G. China and South Korea are said to have a slight lead over the U.S., and it’s part of CTIA’s job to make sure the FCC is aware that more spectrum and better siting rules are necessary.

Pai also said he has circulated an order with the other commissioners that would adopt a so-called “one-touch-make-ready” policy to make it easier for deploying equipment on poles. By making it quicker and cheaper to attach to poles, the FCC can accelerate network buildout and make it easier for new entrants to provide more broadband competition, he said. The order to be voted on in August also makes clear that it is contrary to federal law for states or localities to put in place moratoria on network buildout.