Ajit Pai plans 24GHz and 28GHz spectrum auction for 5G
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Ajit Pai plans 24GHz and 28GHz spectrum auction for 5G

US regulator Ajit Pai had to defend his stance on net neutrality after his speech at Mobile World Congress last night – but revealed details of new spectrum auctions.

After many in the audience of industry leaders raised their hands to show their opposition to his decision to repeal Obama-era rules he retorted: “I would hope that public opinion over time was based more on facts and less on public relations.”

It was a rare public appearance by Pai, who cancelled a speech he was due to give at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas at the beginning of the year –but did appear a few days ago at the right-wing Conservative Political Action Conference, where the National Rifle Association presented him with an honour.

In his speech to the conference, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said he planned to run an auction for spectrum in the 28GHz band in November 2018, to be “followed immediately thereafter by an auction of spectrum in the 24GHz band”.

But he offered one caveat: “In order for us to start an auction in November, we need the US Congress to pass legislation by May 13 addressing the handling of upfront payments. Until now, this technical issue hasn’t impeded the FCC’s work because we’ve been busy getting spectrum we’ve already allocated ready to be auctioned.”

He said: “But we’re now ready to move forward with a major spectrum auction, and if we don’t get the problem fixed by May 13, our efforts to realise America’s 5G future will be delayed. I’m pleased that Congress is making bipartisan progress on this issue and am hopeful that we’ll be able to kick off a major spectrum auction in November.”

He also said that the FCC would seek to liberalise rules that would allow operators to deploy 5G. “So we’ve launched a comprehensive review of our infrastructure regulations,” he said at the Barcelona conference.

“We want to remove outdated rules and make it easier to deploy wireless infrastructure. This review is ongoing, but we’ve already eliminated some rules that don’t make any sense.”

He gave one example of the FCC’s thinking: “We used to require an extensive historic preservation review process just to replace an old utility pole with a newer one that’s substantially identical. Not anymore,” said Pai.

There is more to come, he added, without giving details – except that he has asked another member of the FCC, Brendan Carr, “to lead on modernising our wireless infrastructure rules”.

He told the conference: “Nobody gets a free pass. The United States is simply making a shift from pre-emptive regulation which foolishly presumes that every last wireless company is an anti-competitive monopolist to targeted enforcement based on actual market failure or anti-competitive conduct.”