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5 Reasons Why We Need Mid-Band Spectrum for 5G

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By Peter Pitsch, Executive Director of Federal Relations and Associate General Counsel for Intel


This month is an exciting one in the world of 5G, as the FCC has released a draft Notice of Inquiry (NOI) to “Explore Flexible Use in Mid-Band Spectrum Between 3.7 GHz and 24 GHz" that it will vote on tomorrow,  August 3rd. Here at Intel, we paid particular attention to this announcement, which came shortly after a blog published by FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly asserting the importance of mid-band spectrum to expanding existing network capacity, supporting a new generation of wireless services (5G) and maintaining the United States’ position as a global wireless technology leader.

5G promises to transform our world in unprecedented ways, bringing new life-changing user experiences and services to business and consumers, aided by the convergence of connectivity, computing and cloud technologies on a transformed network —and we are making great strides towards its actualization. Over the past year, the FCC freed additional spectrum in both low and high bands to support a myriad of new connected devices and applications that soon will be enabled by 5G. However, more needs to done to make spectrum in the mid-bands available for flexible licensed and unlicensed broadband use.

Why is the FCC’s upcoming decision to reevaluate the current usage paradigm of mid-band spectrum essential to the future of 5G.

  1. Mid-Band Spectrum is Critical to Meeting Growing Wireless Data Demands 

Global mobile data traffic has increased by 8,000 times in the last ten years, by 800 million times in the last 15, and shows no signs of slowing down. By 2020, the year 5G is expected to be officially realized, more than 50 billion devices and sensors are expected to be connected to network services, generating more than half a zettabyte of traffic per year. Meeting these demands will require the industry to explore new ways to optimize current spectrum usage, utilize newly-licensed frequency ranges, and tap into new and existing unlicensed bands in low, mid, and high frequencies.

Reallocating underutilized spectrum in the 3.7 to 4.2 GHz C-Band for licensed mobile communications, and designating spectrum in the 6 GHz range for unlicensed use, would make a sizeable dent in the capacity delta, it would open the doors to innovation, accelerating the development and launch of critical early stage 5G technologies.           

  1. Mid-Band Spectrum Characteristics Are Uniquely Suited for Mobile Broadband 

Mobile broadband applications, including 4G LTE (licensed) and Wi-Fi (unlicensed), currently function entirely in the sub-6 GHz range, although work is underway to operationalize mmWave spectrum (28 GHz+) for wireless use. Mid-band spectrum is especially well suited for mobile broadband due to its wide coverage, and potential for low latency, and high reliability.

The 3.7-4.2 GHz range targeted in the NOI abuts the 150 MHz of mixed Priority Access (licensed) and General Authorized Access spectrum being explored by the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) for coordinated shared usage. Similarly, the 6 GHz band noted in the NOI is adjacent to the 5 GHz unlicensed band currently used for Wi-Fi, which wireless providers are already seeking to leverage with new radio access technologies like LWA and LAA. The proximity of these bands, along with the favorable qualities of the spectrum itself, would offer service providers and other innovators the ability to deploy new wireless services rapidly and efficiently, with economies of scale and at minimal technological difficulty. 

  1. Mid-Band Spectrum Can be Accessed in Fairly Sizeable Quantities for 5G 

Following the same line of thought, the ranges noted in the NOI, combined with those nearby, could permit the creation of very wide channels, with the capacity for 5G gigabit speeds at low latency. This is important because a number of expected 5G use cases, including virtual reality and autonomous driving, will require massive throughput, at low latency and with extremely high data rates. Mid-band frequencies can be paired with new technologies like MIMO (Multiple Input, Multiple Output) 8X8 antenna arrays to deliver multi-gigabit speeds and performance if sufficient channel bandwidths can be secured.

The NOI begins a process that could free up hundreds of megahertz of spectrum for licensed and unlicensed purposes. When completed this proceeding could be instrumental in accelerating 5G commercial availability in the United States. 

  1. Mid-Band Spectrum Can be Opened Up with Minimal Impact to Incumbents 

There are several methodologies being considered to protect incumbents within these new ranges. These include providing them with flexibility to use their frequencies for mobile themselves, incentives to relinquish their licenses (similar to those given broadcasters); or sharing and other accommodations.

  1. Mid-Band Spectrum is Essential to Continued U.S. Competitiveness in Wireless 

Opening up new access in the 3.7-4.2 GHz and 6 GHz spectrum bands will be key to maintaining U.S. wireless leadership as we enter the 5G era. The U.S. moved quickly in taking bold steps to launch the world’s first 4G LTE network - creating a wealth of economic opportunity. With many nations in Europe and Asia, including China, South Korea, Germany, Japan and others, already actively pursuing initiatives to open up frequencies in mid-bands for mobile services, it’s essential that the U.S. take a similarly aggressive approach in order to continue its leadership position and further its reputation as a global leader in wireless.  This sentiment was well articulated within Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune’s recent letter to FCC Chairman Pai, who noted that while “the U.S. has pushed ahead with efforts to free new spectrum at both low and high frequencies, we lag behind other countries in so-called ‘mid-band’ spectrum.”

Again, Intel would like to congratulate the FCC on its wise decision to begin exploration of the mid-band ranges. We remain confident that these ranges will be pivotal in the accelerated deployment of 5G commercial services not just in the United States, but worldwide.