High-band spectrum (or millimeter wave (mmwave)) is uniquely suited to support key 5G elements: significantly higher speeds, far quicker response times and the ability to serve many more devices, including Internet of Things-enabled devices.
The FCC has started the process to provide access to 11 GHz of spectrum for mobile broadband and is studying the possibility of another 17.7 GHz of spectrum. The FCC should schedule its auction of high band spectrum and quickly review the possibility of additional spectrum.
To unlock high-band spectrum, wireless carriers must deploy new infrastructure, including small cells – antennas that can be smaller than a pizza box. Every level of government needs to adopt common sense siting policies based on small cells that speed 5G deployment.
Today’s smartphones typically use spectrum under 3 GHz, considered low- to mid-band spectrum. These wireless signals can travel miles from a large tower in your community to your device, providing broad area coverage and capacity. High-band spectrum refers to frequencies typically above 24 GHz not currently used for mobile wireless service. Thanks to significant R&D efforts, however, we can now begin using this spectrum for mobile broadband.
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Together with low- and mid-band spectrum, high-band frequencies will unlock the promise of 5G and the IoT. These airwaves above 24 GHz are different, however, in two key ways.
First, today most spectrum blocks are available in 5 to 10 MHz blocks. High-band spectrum will be available in 200 MHz or more blocks that provide operators with the ability to carry significantly more traffic and higher resolution traffic.
Second, while your smartphone signal may travel miles, high-band spectrum only goes meters. Carriers will need to deploy thousands of small cells to take advantage of the new spectrum to provide users with service, and that will require local, state and federal policymakers to streamline siting and right of way rules.
In the global race to 5G, the FCC helped the U.S. remain competitive by acting to make almost 11 GHz of high-band spectrum available in July 2016. But we can never rest on our spectrum laurels: the FCC should move quickly to free up the additional high-band spectrum under consideration.
In addition, policymakers at all levels – from towns and cities to states and the federal government – should remodel their wireless infrastructure policies to reflect the technological innovation, like small cells, that are key to delivering the smart cities and wireless networks of tomorrow.