A member of the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) warned it is unlikely licensed 3.5GHz spectrum will be made available before Q2 2020, despite officials inching closer to approving long-awaited commercial deployments in the band.

Speaking at a CBRS Alliance event, Commissioner Michael O’Rielly (pictured) said the December 2019 start date chosen for the FCC’s third mmWave auction effectively pushed back a planned auction of 3.5GHz licences into next year.

“I frankly don’t see a way it could happen before second quarter 2020,” he said, adding the agency seems “to be stuck in the abyss of auction software development and technical-sounding excuses”.

“Procrastination must end and the auction must be scheduled”, he concluded.

The 3.5GHz band represents a key opportunity for operators in the US, which is facing a shortage of available mid-band spectrum. While the shared band will offer both unlicensed and licensed access, operators have stressed the need for the latter for 5G deployments.

O’Rielly’s comments came as officials at the FCC approved three Environmental Sensing Capabilities (ESC) systems for the band, which are key for detecting incumbent federal radar operations and work alongside so-called Spectrum Access Systems (SAS) to prevent interference between users.

Review of SAS is still underway by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, though O’Rielly noted in a Twitter post the agency is nearing final approval, making it “more likely” initial commercial deployments using unlicensed spectrum will begin as soon as June.