FCC moves toward June 2020 auction of CBRS spectrum

The wireless industry now has a proposed date for when the licensed portion of the 3.5 GHz Citizens Broadband Radio Services (CBRS) band goes up for auction: June 25, 2020.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced in a blog post on Wednesday that the full commission will vote at its September 26 meeting to seek comment on draft procedures for an auction of the 70 MHz of spectrum that will be licensed. The unlicensed portion of the band, dubbed General Authorized Access (GAA), is expected to start hosting commercial services beginning this month.

“Making more spectrum available for the commercial marketplace is a central plank of the Commission’s 5G FAST strategy,” Pai stated, noting that the commission already completed two spectrum auctions this year and will begin a third on December 10 for more millimeter wave. 

Pai and fellow Republican Commissioner Michael O’Rielly weren’t happy with the way the original 3.5 GHz CBRS rules were adopted under former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s regime, and when Pai became chairman he asked O’Rielly to lead an effort that ultimately ended up in tweaking the rules.

“Thanks to Commissioner O’Rielly’s leadership, we put the rules in place last year that will facilitate the deployment of 5G in the 3.5 GHz band,” Pai said in his blog. “And we are now ready to start the process that will lead to the 3.5 GHz auction commencing next June.”

The revised 3.5 GHz rules made it a more 5G-friendly band for wireless carriers. But, during an industry event hosted by Chetan Sharma Consulting just outside Seattle on Wednesday, carriers and others lamented that the U.S. needs to move faster in releasing spectrum, including mid-band. That’s a sentiment that has been shared by FCC commissioners themselves.

Last month, the CBRS Alliance announced it will be hosting an invite-only event on September 18 in Washington, D.C., to celebrate the launch of commercial activity in the 3.5 GHz CBRS band. The event represents years of collaboration between the FCC, Congress, U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), U.S. Department of Commerce, WInnForum and more than 135 members of the CBRS Alliance.

FCC Commissioner O’Rielly is scheduled to be at the event, along with David Wright, president of the CBRS Alliance; Chris Stark, chairman of the CBRS Alliance; Adam Koeppe, SVP, Network Planning at Verizon; Craig Cowden, SVP, Wireless Technology, Charter Communications; Claude Aiken, president and CEO of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA); and representatives of the Department of Defense and National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

Federated Wireless, one of the pioneers in CBRS, on Wednesday also announced that it secured $51 million in Series C funding, with contributions from existing investors Allied Minds, American Tower and GIC, Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund, in addition to new investors Pennant Investors and SBA Communications. The company claims a customer base that includes more than 25 companies spanning the telecom, energy, hospitality, education, retail, office and other verticals that are eager to use the spectrum.