LIVE FROM CTIA SUPER MOBILITY WEEK, LAS VEGAS: FCC chairman Tom Wheeler cited spectrum, infrastructure, and cell siting as the major obstacles on the road to a successful 5G market in the US.
“Ensuring ample availability of spectrum to a range of competitors” is one of the FCC’s major objectives, noted Wheeler, citing the regulator’s recent work in targeting the release of low-band, mid-band and high-band airwaves (what he calls the ‘spectrum trifecta’).
“We created a market that made available 126 MHz of prime beachfront spectrum in the 600MHz band,” he said. “As you know, however, that market closed when the cost to clear that amount of broadcast spectrum exceeded the bid prices of the carriers. We resume bidding next week a new reverse auction to determine the cost to clear a reduced amount – 114 MHz – of spectrum. Following that, we’ll again turn to the forward auction to determine if the spectrum is worth that cost to you.”
Wheeler also pointed to the Commission’s record-setting AWS-3 auction and creation of the new Citizens Broadband Radio service in the 3.5 GHz band as “landmarks in using new sharing tools to open up more mid-band spectrum.” Wheeler noted that it is “interesting that this is apparently where Europe sees its 5G developing.”
And Wheeler noted that this summer the FCC approved an order making the US the first country in the world to open up high-band spectrum for 5G networks and applications. “And in order to give this industry the opportunity to lead the world in 5G, we did it in record time – only nine months from proposal to final decision.”
“Folks, when you’re talking about government, that’s light speed,” he quipped.
In terms of improving 5G infrastructure, Wheeler focused specifically on backhaul.
“Regardless of the spectrum allocation, 5G will require a lot more cells, particularly at the higher frequencies. These small cell sites will need to be connected, so we’ll need a lot more backhaul. In many areas, competition in the supply of backhaul remains limited, and that can translate into higher costs for wireless networks, higher prices for consumers, and an adverse impact on competition.”
He continued: “Before the end of this year the Commission will take up a reform proposal – supported by the nation’s leading wireless carriers, save one – that will tackle this issue and encourage innovation and investment in what we now call Business Data Services, while ensuring that lack of competition in some places cannot be used to hold 5G hostage.”
“There must be fair backhaul prices and availability if we are to connect all these small cells.”
His third issue – siting – addressed the need for hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of new antennas. “That’s hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of siting decisions,” he stated.
Wheeler said working with siting authorities to allow a plethora of antennas to be fitted quickly and at a reasonable cost will depend on telling the story of what 5G is, and not just in terms of technology. “We will be unsuccessful… if all we talk about is engineering. We may all love the fabulous engineering in 5G, but if we want the technology to be successfully deployed, we need to talk about its benefits for people and their communities.”
“We have to help leaders at the local level – and all levels for that matter – understand that 5G will make the Internet of Things real. But even talking about IoT is too obtuse. Let’s talk about the benefits of smart-city energy grids, safer transportation networks, and new opportunities to improve health care. Let’s paint the picture of how 5G will unleash immersive education and entertainment industries, and how 5G will unlock new ways for local employers to grow, whether it’s a small specialty shop or a large factory, creating new jobs and improving services for the community. 5G is not a technology. It is a revolution.”
Wheeler closed by stressing that the Commission is committed to cutting red tape. “We’ve streamlined our environmental and historic preservation rules, and tightened our ‘shot clock’ for siting application reviews.”
Security and privacy were noted as other important topics on the road to 5G, but Wheeler was insistent that the US has the potential to lead the world in 5G deployment “the way we led the world in 4G.”