FCC Vote Kicks Off Race to 5G

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The Federal Communications Commission today approved a plan to open up nearly 11GHz of high-frequency spectrum for next-generation 5G networks.

The 5-0 vote frees 3.85GHz of licensed spectrum and 7GHz of unlicensed spectrum for mobile and fixed-use wireless broadband, a move first proposed last month by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. The availability of the new spectrum is welcome news to cell phone providers and chip manufacturers, which can take advantage of the higher spectrum thanks to advances in antenna technology.

One of the main obstacles to releasing high-frequency spectrum in the US is the fact that satellite signals already occupy some of the bands, as do federal government and military transmissions. Wheeler last month urged satellite and mobile companies "to come together to propose realistic ideas for their coexistence in the upper bands—and to do so quickly."

The FCC says it adopted "effective sharing schemes" as part of today's vote that would pave the way for government and private users to expand their wireless and fixed networks. And expand they will: three of the nation's largest mobile carriers—Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile—are already working on their own 5G standards in partnership with chip and handset manufacturers.

The mobile industry hailed the FCC's decision, with the independent Information Technology and Innovation Foundation noting that the US is the first country to make such spectrum available for 5G use.

"By freeing up this millimeter-wave spectrum to be capitalized upon by new technology, the FCC is putting the United States on the path for leadership in deploying 5G wireless systems," ITIF analyst Doug Brake said in a statement. "This is the first authorization of this kind in the world—the FCC deserves praise for being a first-mover in clearing the way for innovative new uses of this spectrum."

Meredith Attwell Baker, CEO of the wireless trade association CTIA, said the vote "was a clear victory for Americans' mobile-first lives. America is the world's 4G LTE leader and, in the race to 5G, we are positioned well with this spectrum to fuel the next generation of networks, devices and apps. We applaud the FCC Chairman and Commissioners for taking this important step of making more spectrum available for Americans."

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