All four Tier 1 U.S. carriers are offering a mobile 5G service in parts of select markets. Of those four, AT&T, T-Mobile US and Verizon are all using high-frequency millimeter wave spectrum; Sprint is using its 2.5 GHz portfolio, which covers more than 100 metro areas. While the current focus is on millimeter wave deployment, there’s consensus in the industry that 5G will require a low-, mid- and high-band approach to provide coverage and capacity.
This week the U.S. Federal Communications Commission voted to open up the 2.5 GHz band for mobile services. The FCC has proactively made available huge chunks of millimeter wave frequencies, including through a recently wrapped auction of 24 GHz and 28 GHz licenses and is prepping for a December auction of 37 GHz, 39 GHz and 47 GHz licenses.
Noting that most global 5G deployments are centered on mid-band spectrum, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel tweeted, “The rest of the world is focusing on mid-band spectrum to roll out 5G. But in the United States we are are focusing on high-band spectrum. We are choosing the wrong road in the race to 5G—and the United States is at serious risk of falling behind.”
The FCC vote this week gets rid of restrictions previously placed on the spectrum, allowing for new uses and entrants while protecting incumbent use and other existing conditions; 2.5 GHz was initially dedicated to educational television broadcasts. The spectrum will be made available in county-sized licenses in two 50 megahertz blocks and one 16.5 megahertz block.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement: “This is the single largest contiguous swath of mid-band spectrum below 3 gigahertz in the nation. And given its combination of coverage and capacity, it presents a big opportunity for 5G. But today, this valuable public resource is dramatically underused.”
As a barometer of operator interest in mid-band, Pai recently met with Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg to discuss the future of the C-band. According to a notice of ex parte communication filed with the FCC on June 14, Vestberg and William Johnson, SVP of federal regulatory and legal affairs, met two days earlier with Pai and his advisor Aaron Goldberger to discuss “expanding flexible use of the 3.7 GHz to 4.2 GHz band.”
From Johnson’s letter: “We noted that millimeter wave spectrum – the backbone of our current 5G offerings – is performing well and will be an important component of 5G in the United States and internationally. We reiterated that prompt access to midband spectrum is now critical to achieving the full promise of 5G, including more widespread 5G deployment and the full range of advanced capabilities made possible by 5G. Specifically, we encouraged the Commission to move forward quickly to make spectrum in the 3.7 to 4.2 GHz band available and to get a portion of this currently underutilized spectrum in the hands of 5G providers who stand ready to deploy.”