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Keeping Up With Spectrum Policy: Mid-band Opportunities

November 13, 2018

Mid-band spectrum will be crucial for next-generation networks, so it is important that the FCC moves quickly to transition portions of this spectrum to more efficient use.

Radio spectrum—the invisible waves of energy that can carry information through the air—is the lifeblood of wireless communications. This crucial input is in demand by wireless companies of all types, not the least of which include mobile carriers for new 5G deployments. In addition to mobile operators who use licensed spectrum doled out by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), services that rely on unlicensed bands, such as WiFi, would also benefit from additional spectrum. But not all spectrum is the same. Low-band spectrum—frequencies below 1 gigahertz (GHz)—is the historic workhorse of mobile communications. It provides wide coverage areas using relatively little power, which has helped get mobile voice and broadband deployed to most of the population. But there is only so much low-band spectrum to go around, and with much of it already claimed, capacity is limited. While there is excitement around recent technological breakthroughs enabling the use of high-band spectrum above 24 GHz for 5G services, the physics of these extremely high frequencies make for limited propagation and much more costly infrastructure. Unlike bandwidth-constrained low band, and infrastructure-intensive high band, mid-band spectrum is the “Goldilocks” of frequencies—not too high, and not too low.

Falling between 1 and 7 GHz, mid-band spectrum will be crucial for next-generation networks—and it is important the FCC move quickly to transition portions of this spectrum to more efficient use.

The FCC is advancing on several fronts to help alleviate demand for mid-band frequencies. This report surveys a number of the more important opportunities to get mid-band spectrum out and into the hands of innovators. This report examines some of the major proceedings that will 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, and making changes to the 3.5 GHz Citizens Band Radio Service (CBRS) licenses, among other efforts.

Perhaps of most prominent interest is the lower part of the C-band from 3.7 to 4.2 GHz. Today, this spectrum is used to distribute television programming over satellite—and it could be used more efficiently. The question of how to effectively transition a portion of this spectrum from satellite wireless broadband looms large in spectrum policy today. Nearly every stakeholder across the communications landscape has an interest in the proceeding, and the FCC’s broad licensing authority gives it a wide range of options for how to move forward.

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