Wheeler: The future of spectrum lies in high band

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler discusses the importance of 5G networks during a speech Monday at the National Press Club


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The Federal Communications Commission will focus on the untapped potential of very high frequency wavebands to ready America for the challenges of upgrading wireless networks, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said this week — and U.S. agencies will have to help.

The use of high-band airwaves will “open up unprecedented amount of spectrum, speed the rollout of next generation wireless networks and redefine network connectivity for years to come,” Wheeler said during a National Press Club speech.

Experts say that opening up high-band spectrum — the so-called millimeter waveband — is needed to prepare for the 5G network, the blanket term for the next generation of faster, more efficient wireless technology. Not only will 5G improve the networks themselves, but it could allow for more internet access to rural areas and save billions of dollars, Wheeler said.

The telecommunications world must act fast too, as there is a finite amount of room in the spectrum — the wide range of different frequencies wireless devices use to connect to the internet. The more internet of things devices, the less spectrum left.

According to a 2010 presidential memorandum, the federal government must free 500 megahertz of federal and non-federal spectrum by 2020. By last summer, it had repurposed 245 megahertz, according to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

To free federal spectrum, NTIA is focused on having more agencies share spectrum. In the past, the association worked with the Defense Department and the Federal Communications Commission to shrink areas where military radars using the band could not be used.

The FCC is also currently hosting the broadcast incentive auction, selling space on the spectrum for $60 billion. The results will lead to both businesses and agencies having to move around the spectrum band to find new space.

To help reach the FCC’s goal, Wheeler said, the agency would be adopting the Spectrum Frontiers Proceeding, which will propose new 5G-related rules to lead to a “cornucopia of unanticipated, innovative uses,” he said.

“The interconnected world that we live in today is the result of decisions made a decade ago,” Wheeler said. “The interconnected world of the future, will be the result of decisions we must make today. And that is why 5G is a national priority.”

Wheeler will show commissioners and colleagues the SFP proposal on Thursday, and it will receive a vote on July 14.

Wheeler said he also wants the United States to become the first country to open up these high-spectrum frequencies to businesses, so the private sector can use 5G.

“And that’s damn important,” Wheeler said, “because it means U.S. companies will be the first out of the gate.

To do so, the FCC will rely on new developments in smart antenna systems, efficient transmission formats, and low energy systems, which will make sharing spectrum much easier as well, he said.

[Read more: Senate bill, NIST program both aim to ignite 5G networks]

“Sharing is essential for the future of spectrum utilization, but because the high spectrum band currently has satellite, fixed point-to-point, and federal users, we need to work our way through some tough sharing issues,” Wheeler said.

During the Spectrum Frontier Discussion hosted by New America on Tuesday, other telecommunication experts outside the FCC also pointed towards higher-bands as one of the biggest solutions to the spectrum shortage.

This is very much a top priority for us,”said Scott Bergmann, the vice president of regulatory affairs at CTIA – the Wireless Association. “Our perspective is this proceeding is one of the most important proceedings of 5G and the Internet of Things.”

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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Agencies, Federal Communications Commission, Government IT News, Innovation, mobile and wireless, Tech
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