FCC approves spectrum for 5G
Photo Credits: Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP
The Federal Communications Commission took action recently to spur on the development of faster 5G mobile wireless networks and the transition from traditional landline phone systems.
With a 5-0 vote the commission designated a large block of spectrum for next-generation wireless broadband services, as well as fixed networks that could supplant current wired broadband. These 5G services would provide improved speeds of up to 100 times faster than delivered by today’s 4G wireless networks.
The spectrum is in higher bands than currently used — including 28 Gigahertz, 37 GHz and 39 GHz — and can deliver more data than current networks. “By becoming the first nation to identify high-band spectrum, the United States is ushering the 5G era of high-capacity, high-speed, low-latency wireless networks,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said.
5G testing is at its infancy, with major trials expected next year and early deployment of 5G services in 2018.
Industry and consumer groups applauded the agency’s move. “These new bands will be capable of delivering data at much higher speeds than what’s currently available under 4G and LTE, improving the abilities of consumers to truly capitalize on the transformative power of wireless,” said Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association in a statement. “The Commission’s commitment to making some of this spectrum available on a lightly licensed or unlicensed basis will support the kind of permission-less innovation that has characterized the U.S. wireless market.”
In another 5-0 vote, the commission updated regulations to make it easier for telecommunications providers to transition from older telephone networks to newer wireless and Internet-based voice networks.
In the year 2000, about 200 American homes had traditional phone lines, compared with only about 73 million today, said Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. “Americans are increasingly choosing other ways to communicate including a growing number of (voice over Internet) and wireless connections,” she said. “This is what network changes looks like.”
The FCC’s order “is our means of ensuring that consumers will receive in the future what they expect now: reliable and secure voice service,” said Commissioner Mignon Clyburn.
Though he voted to approve the new voluntary rules, Commissioner Michael O’Rielly dissented in part, saying that the measure did not streamline regulations enough. Especially onerous, he said, are requirements that providers maintain compatible with current services such as fax machines until 2025 and prove cybersecurity standards.
“Cybersecurity is an important issue and Congress has assigned authority to oversee it to other agencies,” he said. “Therefore, I do not supports its inclusion in this item, voluntary or not.”
The FCC’s action is a modern-day commitment to universal communications connectivity, said Harold Feld, senior vice president of consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge. “A hundred years ago, we made it our national policy to put a phone on every farm and in every home,” he said. “By creating a process for the orderly phase out of the old voice system, the FCC has also provided a tool for ensuring that no one is left behind in the broadband revolution.”
In other FCC action: Wheeler said that the agency would not create new rules aimed at preventing disputes between pay-TV providers and broadcast networks that can’t agree on deals for retransmission of broadcasters’ content.
Congress has given the FCC the authority to consider the “totality of the circumstances” in a dispute to determine whether one party has negotiated in good faith, he said in a blog post Tuesday on the FCC website.
That “intentionally broad” edict should be adequate for the agency to do its job, he said. “What we need is not more rules, but for both sides in retransmission consent negotiations to take seriously their responsibility to consumers, who expect to watch their preferred broadcast programming without interruption and to receive the subscription TV service for which they pay.”