FCC modifies frequency policy to encourage 5G investment

Changes to licence regulations on 3.5 Ghz have been approved by the FCC in an effort to encourage the 5G rollout.

The 150 MHz wide spectrum on the 3.5 GHz (3550MHz to 3700MHz.) band, or Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS), is very busy. Following the rules of the FCC established in 2015, three tiers of users are sharing this band. There are the Incumbent Access Users, in particular the US Navy Radar Operators; the Priority Access Licenses (PALs) which are mainly commercial users like the telcos; and dinally, General Authorized Access (GAA) users which are permitted to use any portion of the 150 MHz frequency so long as it has not been granted to the other two tiers.

FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, who was tasked to lead the review of current regulations and deliberation of new policies with special focus on PALs, claimed the old rules “would not support large-scale deployments, such as mobile or 5G networks… The rules in place favored small-scale, fixed networks, by making it unattractive for any other type of deployment. Basically, the rules were designed so that a select group could get licenses on the cheap.”

The Report and Order published by the FCC on Tuesday October 23 has kept the three tiers in place, but has made modifications to the specific implementations, including:

  • Changes the size of PAL license areas from census tracts to counties;
  • Extends the PAL license term to ten years and makes these licenses renewable;
  • Establishes end-of-term performance requirements;
  • Ensures seven PALs are available in each license area;
  • Allows the use of bidding credits for rural and Tribal entities;
  • Permits partitioning and disaggregation of PALs;
  • Updates information security requirements to protect registration information; and
  • Facilitates transmission over wider channels while maintaining protections for other services

In addition to extending the license term from three years to ten years and changing it from unrenewable to renewable, the new rules also did away with the limitations on the number of PALs a single applicant can have in one licence area (currently capped at four) and the bandwidth a PAL can use (currently limited to 10 MHz).

Ajit Pai, Chairman of FCC, admitted there has been debate on the new size of PAL licence, with different entrenched interest either arguing for maintaining the current census tract-sized licence, or demanding vastly enlarged areas. He had to cite support from Rural Wireless Association and Competitive Carrier Association, which represents smaller carriers, to defend the Commission’s  decision to opt for county-size license.

“We find that county-based licenses are just right,” said Pai. “This compromise will allow most interested parties, large and small, to bid on 3.5 GHz spectrum in order to provide 5G services. License sizes aside, we make other necessary changes today to promote investment and innovation in the 3.5 GHz band, including extending the license terms and giving an expectancy of license renewal.”

Pai also reassured the GAA users that “even after PALs are granted, General Authorized Access users can provide service in the PAL spectrum until licensees deploy. Taken together, these reforms will help make this band a sandbox for 5G and represent another aspect of our comprehensive 5G FAST plan to secure American leadership in the next generation of wireless connectivity.”

The rule modifications might not look revolutionary, but they should prove positive for more aggressive 5G rollout in the US. With the extended licence term and the possibility of renewal the new regulations provide more confidence to investors looking at long term. Meanwhile, it also strikes a balance both to encourage scale and to protect operators with local ambitions only.

Verizon targets end-2018 for CBRS deployments

Verizon has teamed up with a host of vendors with the objective of launching services and devices on Citizen Band Radio Spectrum by the end of 2018.

After successful initial trials last year, Corning, Ericsson, Federated Wireless, Google, Nokia and Qualcomm, have all come together in Verizon’s Irving lab to develop further use of the spectrum. After the FCC authorized shared use of the spectrum with wireless small cells in 2016, Verizon has been burrowing away with progress seemingly steady. Prior the shared-spectrum set up, the 150 MHz of 3.5 GHz spectrum was primarily used by the federal government for radar systems.

“The promise of the CBRS band and enabling the use of wider swaths of spectrum will make a big impact on carrying wireless data in the future. These trials are critical to stress test the full system,” said Bill Stone, VP Technology Development and Planning for Verizon. “There are many players in the CBRS ecosystem and these successful trials ensure all the various parts perform together as an end-to-end system for our customers’ benefit. We want to ensure devices efficiently use CBRS spectrum and that the new components effectively interact with the rest of the network.”

The tests will focus on several areas including:

  • Verify the Spectrum Access System algorithms from Google and Federated Wireless are consistently providing the best channel match from the SAS database
  • Data rates, modulations and the customer experience using CBRS spectrum
  • Interoperability between infrastructure providers to ensure seamless handoffs between CBRS spectrum and licensed spectrum for customers
  • Mobility handoffs on the CBRS spectrum
  • Evaluate performance and data from LTE over CBRS spectrum

While CBRS operates in a band which is not compatible with devices for the moment, the fact the 3.5 GHz spectrum is being used in Japan and in Europe before too long, means many devices will only need small modifications. Many devices already support TDD LTE operation in 3.5 GHz today, so this could be a logical move from the US and Verizon.

Aside from increasing capacity and higher peak speeds for consumers, Verizon is aiming to use the additional airwaves meet the needs of enterprise customers who want greater control over their LTE solutions including private on-site servers, control over access to their designated LTE network, as well as increased throughput and reduced latency through dedicated backhaul.