FCC considers order to make spectrum above 95 GHz available for unlicensed use

More spectrum appears to be coming down the pike thanks to an order FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is circulating that would make 21.2 gigahertz of spectrum above 95 GHz available for unlicensed use across four frequency bands.

The commission is set to lead off its March meeting with an item on the spectrum above 95 GHz. Pai said in a blog post he’s also proposing to add a new experimental license type that would permit experimental use on any frequency from 95 GHz to 3 THz—with no limits on geography or technology.

Some wireless industry professionals haven’t been terribly excited about the spectrum in these superhigh bands; industry groups like CTIA have been lobbying for more midband licensed spectrum in particular for 5G.

But researchers are studying the higher bands, with institutions like the New York University Wireless research center and NYU Tandon School of Engineering’s Electrical and Computer Engineering Department conducting seminars on terahertz spectrum—generally the stuff that's above 100 GHz but going all the way up to 540 GHz or so.

RELATED: FCC looks to unleash spectrum above 95 GHz

Pai acknowledged that a notable feature of the spectrum above 95 GHz is that it has traditionally not been seen as suited for wireless communications given the physical properties. But it also offers massive swaths of airwaves—like massive open roads as opposed to just a crowded lane or two.

“We currently don’t know precisely what types of applications and wireless services the laws of physics will permit in these bands. And that’s sort of the point: The history of wireless innovation is one of government creating space for broad thinking and entrepreneurs using that space to take us in unexpected directions,” he wrote. “With this order, we’ll set up a big sandbox for engineers and technologists to work with — and we’ll then see what American ingenuity delivers.”

Also on the March agenda is an item to make more efficient use of spectrum in the 900 MHz range. Pai is proposing to make a segment of the 900 MHz band available for broadband and using a market-driven, voluntary exchange process that would allow existing licensees to agree on a plan for relocating incumbents and transitioning the band — “smoothing out, in an economically and technically sound way, the transition from point A to point B,” he said. “The NPRM would also seek public input on two other ways to carry out this transition — an overlay auction and an incentive auction — to ensure we have other tools available for repurposing this spectrum going forward.”

Pai’s proposals came out the same day President Donald Trump sent out tweets saying he wants 5G, and even 6G, technology in the United States as soon as possible. “American companies must step up their efforts, or get left behind,” Trump wrote.  

In response, CTIA released the following statement: “We share the President’s commitment to leading the world in next-generation 5G wireless. Thanks to the innovation, hard work and investment of America’s wireless industry, the first commercial 5G deployments are happening now, in communities across the country. With the Administration's continued backing, the U.S. wireless industry can bring more robust 5G networks to more communities faster.” 

The FCC's next open meeting will be March 15.