The US Federal Communications Commission has voted 3-2 to open up spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band for 5G use and finalized procedures for the forthcoming December auction of spectrum in the upper 37 GHz, 39 GHz and 47 GHz bands. In a statement, the FCC said much of the 2.5 GHz band spectrum (2496-2690 MHz) has been underutilized for many years, having been reserved in the 1960s for the so-called Educational Broadband Service. The only mobile operator active in the band is Sprint, which is already using the frequencies for its 5G rollout. “The action taken today is another step toward closing the digital divide, particularly in rural areas, including rural Tribal areas, that lack reliable wireless broadband services,” said the commission.
The FCC added that its order eliminates restrictions on the types of entities that can hold licenses on the 2.5 GHz band as well as educational use requirements, while preserving incumbent licensees’ private contractual arrangements and provisions in existing leases. The move was described as “a major step toward freeing up critical mid-band spectrum for 5G” by FCC chairman Ajit Pai. “At long last, we remove the burdensome restrictions on this band, allowing incumbents greater flexibility in their use of the spectrum and introduce a spectrum auction that will ensure that this public resource is finally devoted to its highest-valued use,” he said.
However, Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel accused the Republican majority of collapsing the spectrum into an overlay auction system that structurally advantages a single nationwide carrier. "This order turns its back on the schools and educational institutions that have made the 2.5 GHz band their home since 1962 … and reverts to uninspired and stale commercial spectrum policy,” she said, according to Reuters.
The FCC also confirmed that the third auction of high-band, flexible-use licenses suitable for 5G is scheduled to take place on 10 December 2019. Auction 103 of spectrum in the upper 37 GHz, 39 GHz, and 47 GHz spectrum bands will be the largest spectrum auction in US history, offering licenses covering up to 3,400 megahertz for the development of 5G, the Internet of Things and other advanced spectrum-based services.
Auction 103 is designed as an incentive auction that will provide incentive payments to existing 39 GHz licensees that relinquish their spectrum usage rights, said the FCC, adding that the tender will offer licenses for 100 megahertz blocks of spectrum in Partial Economic Areas (PEA) through a clock phase and an assignment phase.