FCC moves on shared access to mid-band spectrum

Could a CBRS model be applied to 3.11 GHz to 3.55 GHz?

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission on Dec. 12 voted unanimously to continue efforts to ultimately facilitate shared access to the spectrum in the 3.11 GHz to 3.55 GHz range. In addition to incumbent federal operations in this spectrum, primarily military radiolocation services, there are also secondary and amateur users in the upper part of the band. The first step is to clear out those non-federal users.

The next step, according to FCC documents, is to solicit comment on relocating those users to either the lower part of the band, 3.1 GHz to 3.3 GHz, or to other frequencies. The goal is to ultimately facilitate shared access to this spectrum in a manner that protect incumbent federal users while also opening up the valuable mid-band spectrum to commercial 5G services.

There’s a lot of stuff going on in the mid-bands right now. In addition to this vote by the FCC, priority access licenses to the 3.5 GHz CBRS band are set to go up for auction in June and an auction for C-Band licenses are tapped for late next year.

Commissioner Mike O’Rielly took something of a victory lap on Twitter: “I’ve been criticized for spending so much time over the last four years pushing mid band spectrum, especially the three key bands (CBRS, C-Band, 3.1-3.55 GHz.) Well, most everyone else is catching up & now talking about these bands. Welcome to the party…Releasing this spectrum to marketplace allows American wireless providers to offer full package of exciting 5G services nationwide!”

It’s been a long road to get CBRS to a commercial stage. The initial commercial deployment process started earlier this year following extensive testing of the environmental sensing capabilities and spectrum access system, which respectively detect incumbent federal use of the spectrum and manage access from general authorized and priority access users.

It’s easy to imagine how the same ESC/SAS paradigm could be used for CBRS and for the adjacent frequencies between 3.11 GHz and 3.55 GHz.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel has been a consummate critic of federal moves to make huge chunks of millimeter wave frequencies available, which is largely out of sync with 5G deployments everywhere else in the world that are focused on mid-band spectrum.

She reiterated this position in a statement following the vote.

“When it comes to mid-band spectrum for 5G I think one thing is clear: we need to move more and move faster. That’s why when the agency started a proceeding to slow down plans to bring mid-band spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band to auction, I dissented. It’s why when the agency passed up an opportunity to reimagine the 2.5 GHz band for 5G and instead opted for a messy and limited auction instead, I dissented. It’s why when the agency prioritized auctioning its third, fourth, and fifth millimeter wave bands this year before what could have been its very first mid-band auction, I dissented. And it’s why when the agency started a rulemaking on the C-band, I suggested that if we wanted to avoid delay we should include Congress in our work—but that too was ignored and now we are paying for it in lost time and fresh ambiguities about authority. Here’s the truth. If you survey these proceedings you will see that our spectrum policies are increasingly divorced from the realities on the ground in the United States and the priorities in the rest of the world—and this has consequences for our wireless leadership, digital divide, and national security.”

 

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