The wireless industry moved closer to gaining access to high-band millimeter wave spectrum for use in 5G networks yesterday as the FCC adopted rules for a spectrum auction to be held in 2019.
A total of 2,400 megahertz of spectrum in the combined Upper 37 GHz and 39 GHz bands and 1,000 megahertz of spectrum in 47 GHz band will be up for grabs, according to the Fourth Report and Order.
“This is exciting. Even better, the approach we adopt here puts a premium on auctioning millimeter wave bands together, instead of one-by-one,” said FCC Comm. Jessica Rosenworcel. “That’s a method I have long championed, and I appreciate that my colleagues have recognized this is the right way to go.”
Specifically, the order modifies the band plans for the Upper 37 GHz, 39 GHz, and 47 GHz bands from 200 megahertz blocks to 100 megahertz blocks to be licensed by Partial Economic Area, which will facilitate the simultaneous auction of licenses in the three bands. It also adopts an incentive auction mechanism that will offer contiguous blocks of spectrum throughout the Upper 37 GHz, 39 GHz, and 47 GHz bands, while preserving spectrum usage rights for existing licensees. Additionally, a pre-auction process was adopted that allows incumbent licensees to rationalize their holdings.
“These and other steps will help us stay ahead of the spectrum curve and allow wireless innovation to thrive on our shores,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a prepared statement. “Notably, we’re setting up the Upper 37, 39, and 47 GHz auction to be our second-ever incentive auction.”
Pai noted that incentive auction will be different from the broadcast incentive auction that Congress authorized years ago.
The incentive auction of these spectrum bands will have two phases: a clock phase in which bidders may bid on generic license blocks, and an assignment phase in which clock phase winners may bid on specific frequencies. Incentive payments will be offered to incumbents who choose to relinquish their spectrum usage rights to make new licenses available.
WIA President and CEO Jonathan Adelstein said the FCC’s action to make additional spectrum available for 5G services will help the United States continue to lead the world in wireless innovation.
“2018 has been a banner year for the Commission in laying the foundation for next generation wireless services and today’s Open Meeting is a continuation of this commitment to win the race to 5G,” Adelstein said in a prepare text.
According to the incentive auction rules, incumbents that bid for new licenses may use “vouchers” equivalent to their existing holdings for credit toward the amount they bid in the auction. For an incumbent that chooses not to relinquish all its existing rights, the Report and Order provides methods to modify the incumbent’s licenses so that they align with the band plan and service areas adopted by the Commission.
“We grant incumbents the opportunity to trade in their existing spectrum rights in the 39 GHz band in exchange for new rights in any of the bands we offer in this auction. This promises to generate more interest and provide bidders with more freedom to assess which bands work best for them. This has also been an approach I have argued for from the start. I think a more thoughtful auction will result,” Rosenworcel said.