FCC kicks off comment period on 28 GHz, 24 GHz auctions

The FCC is moving forward with separate auctions for the 28 and 24 GHz bands, but other spectrum bands are on the minds of the commissioners and industry.

As expected, the FCC voted to distribute a public notice seeking comment on proposed application and bidding procedures for auctioning the 28 GHz and 24 GHz bands. Plans call for offering a total of about 6,000 licenses through the 28 GHz auction, set to start on Nov. 14, and the 24 GHz auction, which will start when the 28 GHz auction ends.

Some stakeholders in the wireless industry have been lobbying for the FCC to conduct one big auction of multiple millimeter wave spectrum bands. T-Mobile is one of those arguing for more bands bundled together, saying the 28 GHz band is already heavily encumbered by Verizon thanks to acquisitions in the secondary market. In the top 50 markets, only 2% of the 28 GHz spectrum is available, according to T-Mobile.   

For its part, CTIA applauded the FCC’s move to conduct the 28 and 24 GHz auctions, although it has pressed the FCC to move forward with an auction that includes the 24, 28, 37/39 and 47 GHz bands.

“CTIA applauds the FCC for moving forward with the first high-band spectrum auctions for 5G use,” said Scott Bergmann, CTIA senior vice president for regulatory affairs, in a statement. “Spectrum availability is a key input in the readiness and ability of the U.S. to win the global race to 5G. We look forward to working with the Commission on implementing these critical auctions and on identifying and auctioning additional bands, including midband spectrum, to power the wireless networks of the future.”

Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) President and CEO Steve Berry said millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum offers tremendous opportunities for competitive carriers wanting to deploy next-generation technologies. “It is disappointing that the Spectrum Frontiers 28 GHz and 24 GHz Competitive Bidding Procedures Public Notice, adopted by the FCC today in its Open Meeting, does not include all available mmW bands, adding the 37 GHz, 39 GHz, and 47 GHz bands as CCA originally requested,” he said in a statement. “Limiting the amount of spectrum on which carriers can bid means fewer opportunities for carriers to utilize this valuable resource for the benefit of consumers. The FCC must ensure that all carriers have the opportunity to access mmW spectrum at auction, including additional mmW bands which would speed deployment of 5G technologies.”

Clearly, calls for more spectrum to be released for 5G are being heard. In her prepared remarks, Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said the FCC should publish a calendar that clearly states exactly when and how the FCC plans to auction new airwaves to support 5G. She also said it’s troubling that the agency has watched as South Korea, Germany, Australia, the United Kingdom and Romania have already announced plans for 5G auctions.

Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said the commission needs to take steps to open up remaining bands like the 32, 42 and 50 GHz and start the process to allocate additional bands like 26 GHz for commercial wireless uses. Auctions for the 37 and 39 GHz bands also need to get scheduled as the industry needs to know as soon as possible so individual companies can plan for the resources they need to participate in auctions.

“I want to put as much spectrum out in the marketplace as possible in the high bands and we’re working on the midbands as well,” O’Rielly said during a press conference, noting that 26 GHz has to be part of the discussion. He also said the hope is to have an item this summer for 3.7-4.2 GHz and 6 GHz. His team as well is working hard on the 3.5 GHz Citizens Broadband Radio Services band, which is under review.

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Commissioner Brendan Carr said a lot of behind-the-scenes work is going on and they’re all pushing ahead, staff included, to get more spectrum out there. Carr was instrumental in the FCC’s vote last month to take steps to modernize its approach to the deployment of wireless infrastructure.  

Earlier this week, CTIA released the results of a study that shows China holds a narrow lead in overall 5G readiness ahead of South Korea and the United States. The report by Analysys Mason ranked 10 countries on their 5G readiness and found China, South Korea, the United States and Japan as the lead competitors, in that order.  

The U.S. industry has done its part to lead in 5G, but the government can do more to foster 5G small cell deployments and release more spectrum, according to CTIA, which is holding a Race to 5G Summit in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, where industry stakeholders will be presenting along with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and others.

RELATED: CTIA: Study shows China with narrow lead over U.S. in race to 5G

China grabbed the top spot in part because all major Chinese providers have committed to specific launch dates and the government has committed to at least 100 MHz of midband spectrum and 2,000 MHz of high-band spectrum for each wireless provider.

With infrastructure reform teed up at the FCC and in Congress, the U.S. can still pull ahead, but it’s got to act fast and it needs to release more spectrum, according to CTIA.