FCC approves rules that lay the groundwork for 5G


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The Federal Trade Commission approved a proposal Thursday to open up a massive amount of spectrum space for federal and nonfederal organizations, laying the groundwork for more sophisticated wireless networks. 

During an open meeting, commissioners unanimously passed the Spectrum Frontier proposal, giving agencies and companies new access to higher frequencies of the “spectrum band” — resulting in a more efficient network. Many experts believe more spectrum access is the key to bringing America to the next generation of wireless networks: 5G.

“I do believe that this is one of, if not the most important decision this agency will make this year,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said at the meeting. 

With more spectrum, experts expect government agencies to perform better, too. Thanks to major improvements in wireless technology that allow networks do more with less, higher bands let users connect to more Internet of Things devices — including things like self-driving cars or state-of-the-art apps — on the same network.

The approved rules open up roughly 11 gigahertz of spectrum, including a dedicated section of the band for government agencies to share. This specific band will help agencies protect and grow their network, while guaranteeing they will not be removed from the band.

[Read more: FCC proposes new spectrum opportunities for feds alongside massive increase]

“The 37 to 37.6 gigahertz band segment will be shared on a coordinated co-equal basis between commercial and federal users,” Catherine Schroeder, FCC attorney adviser of the Mobility Division, said during the meeting. “This item sets in place a structure with defined rights that can then serve as a foundation for collaboration among interested parties on a sharing mechanism to be further developed through the” further notice of proposed rulemaking.

Much of the detail behind this band will not be announced until officials release that notice, Intel’s Peter Pitsch said during a Telecommunications Industry Association panel after the announcement. Pitsch and the other panelists applauded the FCC’s push to 5G, but are unsure if the initiative addresses the public sector enough.

“To be honest, we have a long way to go,” said Pitsch, the company’s executive director of communications policy and associate general counsel.

Support for the ruling has erupted in the telecommunications community, which says it’s necessary to build more advanced wireless networks. CTIA – The Wireless Association, an industry trade group, said the move would speed up the arrival of 5G.

“Today’s vote by the FCC to make high band spectrum available for 5G was a clear victory for Americans’ mobile-first lives,” CTIA President and CEO Meredith Attwell Baker said in a statement. “America is the world’s 4G LTE leader and, in the race to 5G, we are positioned well with this spectrum to fuel the next generation of networks, devices and apps.”

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation agreed.

“This is the first authorization of this kind in the world — the FCC deserves praise for being a first-mover in clearing the way for innovative new uses of this spectrum,” ITIF telecommunications policy analyst Doug Brake said in a statement.

Contact the reporter on this story via email: Jeremy.Snow@FedScoop.com. Follow him on Twitter @JeremyM_Snow. Sign up for the Daily Scoop — all the federal IT news you need in your inbox every morning — here: fdscp.com/sign-me-on.

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Government IT News, Innovation, mobile and wireless, mobility, Tech, Wireless Networks
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