FCC controversially relaxes its rules to open mid-band spectrum for 5G

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has voted to relax its rules around who can own spectrum in the 2.5GHz band.

Rules first established in the Kennedy-era required spectrum in the 2.5GHz band to be used for educational purposes. With more spectrum now needed for 5G, the FCC has decided to open up the “underutilised” airwaves.

The FCC voted 3-2 in favour of changing the rules and claims it will help with “closing the digital divide” between rural and more developed areas.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai called the vote "a major step toward freeing up critical mid-band spectrum for 5G."

Sprint uses leased spectrum in the 2.5GHz band for its 4G network and its ongoing rollout of 5G. Part of the reason why T-Mobile is willing to splash $26 billion on acquiring Sprint is to use the mid-band spectrum for its own 5G network.

"At long last, we remove the burdensome restrictions on this band, allowing incumbents greater flexibility in their use of the spectrum and introduce a spectrum auction that will ensure that this public resource is finally devoted to its highest-valued use," added Pai.

The FCC also hopes that relaxing the rules will help the US meet its ambitious 5G strategy of establishing itself as the world leader.

In a presidential memorandum, President Trump wrote:

"It is imperative that America be first in fifth-generation (5G) wireless technologies – wireless technologies capable of meeting the high-capacity, low-latency, and high-speed requirements that can unleash innovation broadly across diverse sectors of the economy and the public sector.”

However, not everyone agrees with the FCC’s decision. Democrat Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel tweeted:

jessica-ros

Under the new rules, the FCC will auction 2.5GHz spectrum directly to operators.

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