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FCC adopts 5G auction rules

December 13, 2018

By Colin Mann

The FCC has taken what it describes as “ a significant step” toward holding a major 5G spectrum auction in 2019 by adopting new rules that will promote the availability of high-band millimetre wave spectrum for the next generation of wireless connectivity.

The airwaves in the combined Upper 37 GHz and 39 GHz bands are the largest amount of contiguous spectrum available for wireless service in the millimeter wave bands—2,400 megahertz in total—while the 47 GHz band provides an additional 1,000 megahertz of spectrum. According to the FCC, tthe Fourth Report and Order in the Spectrum Frontiers proceeding is another key step toward ensuring American leadership in 5G.

Specifically, the Fourth Report and Order:

  • Modifies the band plans for the Upper 37 GHz, 39 GHz, and 47 GHz bands from 200 megahertz blocks to 100 megahertz blocks to be licensed by Partial Economic Area, which will facilitate the simultaneous auction of licences in the three bands;
  • Adopts an incentive auction mechanism that will offer contiguous blocks of spectrum throughout the Upper 37 GHz, 39 GHz, and 47 GHz bands, while preserving spectrum usage rights for existing licensees; and
  • Adopts a pre-auction process that allows incumbent licensees to rationalise their holdings.

The incentive auction of these spectrum bands will have two phases: a clock phase in which bidders may bid on generic license blocks, and an assignment phase in which clock phase winners may bid on specific frequencies. Incentive payments will be offered to incumbents who choose to relinquish their spectrum usage rights to make new licences available.

New entrants and participating incumbents may bid for new licences. Incumbents that bid for new licenses may use ‘vouchers’ equivalent to their existing holdings for credit toward the amount they bid in the auction. For an incumbent that chooses not to relinquish all its existing rights, the Report and Order provides methods to modify the incumbent’s licenses so that they align with the band plan and service areas adopted by the Commission.

“With today’s action, the Commission promotes the robust use of this spectrum for 5G and other innovative services by both incumbents and new licensees, and it takes an important step toward an auction of these bands in 2019,” said the FCC.

In a Statement, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said that pushing more spectrum into the commercial marketplace was a key component of its 5G FAST plan to maintain American leadership in the next generation of wireless connectivity. “Currently, we’re conducting an auction of 28 GHz band spectrum, to be followed by a 24 GHz band auction. And today, we are taking a critical step towards holding an auction of the Upper 37, 39, and 47 GHz bands in 2019. These and other steps will help us stay ahead of the spectrum curve and allow wireless innovation to thrive on our shores,” he declared.

“Notably, we’re setting up the Upper 37, 39, and 47 GHz auction to be our second-ever incentive auction. This incentive auction will be different from the broadcast incentive auction that Congress authorised years ago, but it’ll have the same worthy goal: clearing or repacking existing licensees to make spectrum as useful as possible, boosting competition and benefiting consumers,” he suggested.

“In this Order, we also take a number of steps to facilitate this auction,” he explained. “First, we harmonise the block size to 100 megahertz for all three bands. This will make it easier to both transition incumbents with mismatched license holdings and auction all of these bands together. Next, we enable incumbent licensees to rationalise their spectrum holdings and new licensees to gain meaningful access to millimetre-wave spectrum. And at multiple steps along the way, we let incumbents choose how to relinquish or modify their existing rights, which ensures that they will be treated fairly.”

“I’m pleased that the Commission is committed to making these bands available in 2019 to facilitate American leadership in 5G and provide additional opportunities for consumers across the country to access advanced wireless services. It is part of an ambitious auction schedule that will push almost five gigahertz of spectrum into the commercial marketplace in late 2018 and 2019,” he concluded.



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