FCC opens up spectrum over 24GHz for 5G wireless

15 July 2016 | Jason McGee-Abe

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has adopted new rules for wireless broadband operations in frequencies above 24GHz to enable rapid development and deployment of next-gen 5G technologies and services in the US.

FCC logoThe rules make “the United States the first country in the world to make this spectrum available for next generation wireless services”, the FCC states. The high-frequency spectrum will support innovative new uses enabled by fibre-fast wireless speeds and extremely low latency.

The FCC has allocated nearly 11GHz of spectrum for flexible, mobile and fixed-use wireless broadband - 7GHz of unlicensed spectrum from the 64 to 71GHz band and 3.85GHz of licensed spectrum, designated as a new “upper microwave flexible use” service in the 28GHz, 37GHz and 39GHz bands.

“These rules balance different spectrum access approaches, including exclusive use licensing, shared access, and unlicensed access, in order to meet a variety of different needs and use cases,” the FCC stated. “The Commission also adopted other flexible service and technical rules to allow new technologies and innovations to evolve and flourish without needlessly prescriptive regulations.”

Tom WheelerFCC chairman Tom Wheeler said: “Our broadband networks – wired and wireless – will define what our world is going to be like. From job creation, to education, to healthcare, to energy and on down the line, these networks will unleash new innovations, making the impossible possible. We have the incredible privilege of helping to shape that connected future. Today, we take the most significant steps yet to enable the next generation of wireless connectivity.”

Wheeler added that 5G connectivity “promises quantum leaps forward in three key areas: speeds resembling fiber that are at least 10 times and maybe 100-times faster than today’s 4G LTE networks; responsiveness less than one-thousandth of a second, which enables real-time communication; and network capacity multiples of what is available today”.

The Commission’s rules will help to provide clarity for business investment in 5G technologies and has provided a platform for US firms to launch these technologies to harness 5G’s fibre-fast capabilities.

AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon have all moved forward with plans to test and develop 5G technologies. Last month, Sprint demonstrated 5G connectivity offering speeds up to 4Gbps at the Copa America soccer tournament in Philadelphia. Verizon also recently announced that it had completed 5G specification.

Wheeler, who sees 5G as a “national priority”, expects the first commercial 5G deployments at scale to come in 2020. “The big game-changer is that we are using much higher-frequency bands than previously thought viable for flexible uses, including mobile,” he said. 

Wider blocks of at least 200MHz in width for 5G will “allow networks to carry much more traffic per user – gigabits of throughput instead of megabits. We’re talking about fibre-like capacity to wireless users”.