FCC Should Transition Spectrum to More Efficient Use, New Report Recommends

November 13, 2018

WASHINGTON—As the demand for additional wireless broadband service only continues to grow, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will need to move quickly to transition available spectrum to more valuable use. To meet this demand, a new report released today by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), the world’s top-ranked science and technology policy think tank, offers recommendations for how the FCC and National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) can free up additional mid-band spectrum, which will be crucial for next-generation networks.

“Mid-band spectrum is the Goldilocks of frequencies: not too high and not too low, compared to low-band and high-band spectrum. The FCC should look to new, expeditious mechanisms to transition portions of it to more efficient use,” said ITIF Director of Broadband and Spectrum Policy Doug Brake, author of the report. “The faster otherwise under-used mid-band spectrum can be reallocated, the sooner the United States will see the benefit of faster mobile broadband, newly-deployed 5G platforms for low-latency innovation, and less-congested home WiFi.”

The report examines some of the major proceedings to open up mid-band spectrum, including transitioning portions of the lower C-Band from satellite to terrestrial use, proposing to make room for unlicensed services in the 6 GHz band, the changes made to the 3.5 GHz Citizens Band Radio Service (CBRS) licenses, among other efforts.

The report offers several high-level policy recommendations to deploy mid-band spectrum, including:

  • Make mid-band spectrum available for 5G and other advanced wireless systems to flourish as soon as possible and, where possible, use mechanisms that allow for expedited reallocation;
  • Aim for spectrum allocations where a single service supports a variety of applications, enables sharing between multiple end-users, and allow capacity to be dynamically adjusted between these uses;
  • Encourage private actors to internalize both the costs and benefits of what they choose to do with the rights to their spectrum.
  • Clarify rights and expectations around harmful interference for mid-band users.

With regards to specific proceedings, the report recommends that the FCC and NTIA:

  • 3.7 to 4.2 GHz: Explore moving forward with the consortium, market-based approach, as it is likely the fastest possible mechanism to identify the amount of spectrum that could safely be transitioned to 5G services while protect the important existing C-band services.
  • 6 GHz: Quickly open up the 6 GHz band for unlicensed operations. The FCC should try to relocate outdated, narrow-purpose spectrum systems with the goal of enabling more general-use, spectrally efficient technologies. The FCC should aim for simple rules to allow for simpler devices, encouraging widespread adoption and use of this otherwise underutilized band.
  • CBRS: Prioritize testing of the Spectrum Access System and Environmental Sensing Capability administrators to make sure this system can move forward as soon as possible.
  • Ligado and the L-Band: Recognize Ligado’s efforts to mollify concerns around potential interference to sensitive receivers and allow the L-band to be put to more productive use.

“With some creativity, ingenuity, and policy entrepreneurship, the opportunity to transition several hundreds of megahertz of spectrum is at hand,” Brake said. “Freeing up mid-band spectrum will be a boon to the economy and help advance U.S. leadership in early and widespread 5G deployment.”

Read the report.