FCC Opens Higher Frequencies to Phone Companies

WASHINGTON—The Federal Communications Commission opened up higher-frequency spectrum for development of fifth-generation wireless cellular technology, whatever that may be. The standard for 5G technology is still four years out.

Be that as it may, the commission voted to designate 11 GHz of spectrum for 5G in the 28, 37 and 39 GHz bands as well as “a new unlicensed band at 64-71 GHz.” The related rulemaking was not immediately available, but a press release announcing it said the rules would allow for exclusive use as well as shared access among federal, private, satellite, terrestrial, fixed and mobile licensees, who can all ostensibly “co-exist and expand.”

The commission also adopted a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to apply the same rules to another 18 GHz of spectrum in eight more higher-frequency bands, among other things.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler issued a statement proclaiming 5G a “national priority.” He said the emergent technology will be “10 times and maybe 100 times faster than today’s 4G LTE networks,” which are not yet fully built out by all carriers. (OpenSignal puts U.S. 4G LTE coverage at 78 percent.)

Wheeler generalized about applications, e.g., smart utility grids and the “Internet of Everything,” including cars, appliances, thermostats, medical devices and whatnot. He said the higher-frequency bands would support the use of spectrum blocks up to 200 MHz wide versus the five- to 10-MHz blocks paired for wireless networks in low-band spectrum, such as that being sold in the TV spectrum incentive auction.

He further said the order created a “massive 14 GHz of unlicensed” spectrum, so named because it carries no fees, conditions or build-out timelines. Google has long been a driving force behind getting the FCC to create more unlicensed spectrum. The search behemoth successfully lobbied a past FCC for unlicensed use of TV white spaces and possibly 6 MHz of the TV band in the post-incentive auction channel repack.

In a March 7, 2016 ex parte filing on the 5G docket, Google said its representatives “urged the FCC to enable opportunities for unlicensed use of the 57-71 GHz band.”

Facebook lobbied for a place in the neighborhood:

“The commission should open up access to more unlicensed spectrum in the millimeter wave bands, particularly the 64-71 GHz band,” the FB team said in a June 21, 2016 ex parte filing.

A fact sheet related to the rulemaking noted a few power parameters, including base station power of 75 dBm/100 MHz depending on deployment needs; mobile power at 43 dBm EIRP; and transportable maximum power of 55 dBm EIRP.

Other than that, the commission said it was “allowing the technology to evolve and develop without unreasonable or unnecessary regulatory constraints.”

While the 5G standard is not yet complete, it is under way at the International Telecommunications Union, which took it up in 2012. The ITU is shooting to have a spec ready in 2020.

Carriers and others have been testing competing flavors of a standard likely to render enormous profits for those whose technology is adopted for it. The IEEE Communications Society reported on Ericsson achieving 5 Gpbs on multiple-in, multiple-out, or MIMO, technology, in the 15 GHz band, in 2014.

Wheeler noted that “AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon are all moving forward with plans to test and develop 5G technologies,” and that “Sprint demonstrated 5G connectivity with speeds up to 4 Gbps at the Copa America soccer tournament in Philadelphia,” last month.

Standard or no standard, Verizon intends to do a limited commercial launch of 5G technology next year, according to recode. The carrier announced Monday that it completed its own 5G radio spec, and was the first U.S. carrier to do so. Throughput was said to be “several gigabits per second,” at “single-millisecond latencies.”

Verizon’s ultimate contribution to the standard may challenged by China, which has a dog in the 5G race, according to Investor’s Business Daily quoting a Bernstein Research report:

“China has a strong vested interest in insuring a significant amount of Chinese technology is embedded in the 5G standard finally freeing them of their dependency on foreign technology and the need to pay royalties. Their vision of 5G is the most revolutionary; China Mobile’s chief scientist of wireless technologies is calling to rethink the fundamentals’ of mobile technology.”

Verizon, on the other hand, is set to get a boost from the FCC’s 5G order, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinelnoted, calling it the “first global set-aside of high-band spectrum, specifically the 28 GHz, 37 GHz and 39 GHz bands, for unlicensed use.”

This high-frequency, millimeter wave spectrum previously was considered unsuitable for mobile data networks. It still will require line-of-sight access and therefore, “millions” rather than “thousands of cell towers,” Richer Adler of the Institute for the Future told Wired.

“Multiple sites inside a building, perhaps multiple sites within a single room,” he was quoted as saying.

While the majority of the FCC’s 593 comments filed on its 5G “Spectrum Frontiers” docket No. 14-177, “Spectrum Bands Above 24 GHz,” appear to be from carriers and others interested in using the spectrum, a significant contingent of citizens objected to the FCC’s game plan. All were filed in the days before the commission took up the 5G rulemaking in its July 14 meeting, missing the comment cycle deadline by nearly five months. Many were from people who describe themselves as “electro-sensitive.”

“I am one of millions of electrohypersensitive citizens in the USA [sic] who are unwilling subjects in this ongoing corporate experiment in ever-increasing wireless exposures,” wrote Derek C. Bishop, a school teacher in Indian Wells, Calif. “For many people, their symptoms of difficulty sleeping, difficulty concentrating, general sluggishness and lack of productivity (among many others) go undiagnosed.”

A coalition calling itself “Parents for Safe Technology” called the rulemaking a “boon to industry and devastation to public health,” offering up several studies and testimonials.

Deborah Kopald of Fort Montgomery, N.Y., writes, “The FCC should put an immediate moratorium on the rollout of 5G or indeed any more transmitter infrastructure. What is needed now is a national accounting of the health effects of the excess level of second-hand and first-hand radiation with which the FCC is permitting people to saturate the entire indoor environment and increasingly the outdoor environment.”

The commission itself says that harmful radiation from cell sites is “extremely remote” given their general height and power levels.