We hear a lot about ‘this’ MHz frequency or ‘that’ GHz frequency band, the prospect of
upcoming FCC auctions of the frequency spectrum, and the need (not only for new sites
but) for greater amounts of bandwidth to satisfy the demand for commercial mobile services
in the US and fuel wireless carrier growth. This article summarizes what frequency spectrum
has already sold by lottery and auction, to date, and characterizes frequency spectrum that is
scheduled and anticipated to be scheduled for auctions in the next few years.
For instance, did you know that auction plans set for 2018-19 promise to make available seven
times more bandwidth than has been sold by the FCC for commercial mobile services since the
original cellular market license lottery in the early 80s. That’s 5 GHz of new bandwidth to be
auctioned in the next 14 months compared to 715.5 MHz transferred in the past 35 years. This
expansion in wireless system capacity roughly matches the projected increase in cell sites over
the next five years compared with the number of cell sites developed-to-date since 1983.
You’ll want to keep this frequency spectrum overview close at hand for easy reference.
The FCC’s 5G FAST Plan for Spectrum
The FCC’s plan to Facilitate America’s Superiority in 5G Technology (5G FAST) is made-up of
three initiatives: Increase spectrum availability, improve infrastructure policy, and modernize
outdated regulations. The focus of this article is the spectrum.
In the past 24 years, the FCC has conducted approximately 100 spectrum auctions for an array
of over-the-air communications services. Auctions that sold the commercial mobile services
(a/k/a wireless) sector spectrum capacity have raised over $100 billion in federal revenue.
Currently, the top six spectrum holders are Sprint, AT&T, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, DISH,
and US Cellular. The largest of the wireless auctions were for licenses in these frequency bands:
($41B) AWS-3 Band auction completed in 2015
($36B) Broadband PCS Band/A-B-C-D-E-F blocks (combined) completed 1995/2014
($13.7B) AWS-1 Band completed in 2006/2008
($ 7B) 600 MHz Band completed in 2017
Between auctions and the original cellular service lotteries, the following amounts of bandwidth
(715.5 MHz total) have been doled out to the top spectrum holders on a market-by-market basis
(determined by the market category and winning bidder):
70 MHz in the 600 MHz Band
70 MHz in the 700 MHz Band
50 MHz in the 800 MHz Cellular Service Band
14 MHz in the SMR Band
130 MHz in the Broadband PCS Band
90 MHz in the AWS-1 Band
65 MHz in the AWS-3 Band
40 MHz in the AWS-4 Band
10 MHz in the H-Block Band
20 MHz in the WCS Band
67.5 MHz in the BRS Band
89 MHz in the EBS Band
The FCC’s 5G FAST Plan involves auctions for 28 GHz and 24 GHz bandwidth in 2018, 37 GHz,
39 GHz, and 47 GHz bandwidth in 2019, and further capacity in the 26 GHz and 42 GHz bands in
the future. The plans already set for 2018-19 auctions will make available 5 GHz of total bandwidth
(7 times the 715.5 MHz previously auctioned and sold by lottery).
This increase in wireless system capacity roughly matches the projected increase in cell sites over
the next five years compared with the number of cell sites developed since 1983.
The FCC is further endeavoring to develop up-to-another 844 MHz in the 2.5 GHz, 3.5 GHz, and
3.7-4.2 GHz bands, improve bands below 1 GHz (600 MHz, 800 MHz, & 900 MHz) for 5G use, and
create new opportunities for Wi-Fi unlicensed the 6 GHz band and above 95 GHz. The key to use of
frequencies above 1 GHz is that the characteristics of the waves lend themselves to 5G applications
that utilize small cells to cover smaller areas than the bands under 1 GHz.
Stay tuned for the frequency bands mentioned above to come into play.
October 15, 2018
by John Rowe- Regulatory Chairman, Colorado Wireless Association