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FCC plans 5G spectrum auction

by Martha DeGrasse

28 GHz spectrum band auction could start this fall


Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai said his agency is ready to move forward with a major auction of millimeter wave spectrum for 5G, if Congress will cooperate. The FCC wants to auction spectrum in the 28 GHz band this November.


Speaking at Mobile World Congress, Pai said that the upcoming auction is contingent on Congress passing a new law to make it easier for the FCC to deposit upfront payments from bidders. The agency has said that banks are unwilling to hold these deposits in interest-bearing accounts because federal law makes it expensive to collateralize public deposits in excess of the amount insured by the FDIC. Pai said he is hopeful that Congress will change the law by this spring, adding that if legislation is not in place by May 13, the spectrum auction will be delayed. 


Pai did not go so far as to say the auction will not take place if the law is not changed. The banking regulations that govern public deposits have been in place for years, and several spectrum auctions have been held during this time. Upfront payments were made during all of these auctions, because the FCC requires these payments from all bidders.


28 GHz spectrum band

The 28 GHz spectrum band is quickly emerging as a focus for 5G deployments. Verizon and AT&T are both testing fixed wireless deployments at 28 GHz, and AT&T has said it will use millimeter wave bands for its mobile 5G launch this year, although it did not name the specific band.


"Momentum is building for 28 GHz initial deployments. You can be sure that when these occur the rest of the world will be watching," said James Kimery, director of marketing and RF at National Instruments, in a recent blog post. Kimery added that he expects consumers to experience 5G in the millimeter wave bands sporadically. He thinks users with the right devices will be able to enjoy 5G speeds when they are near a 5G small cell, and then fall back to Wi-Fi or LTE when they leave that area. Because of the shorter range of millimeter wave transmissions, blanket 5G coverage using millimeter wave frequencies would require an enormous density of small cells.


The 28 GHz spectrum band is also a candidate for connected car applications because it can accommodate very high data rates with millisecond response times. Automakers, however, are not expected to standardize around one frequency band and are more likely to standardize by region.  


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