FCC seeks to advance 5G infrastructure, looks at additional mmWave spectrum

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The Federal Communications Commission a number of actions at its monthly meeting, covering streamlined 5G deployment, rural broadband deployment, advanced broadcasting using the ATSC 3.0 standard and potentially expanded use of spectrum at 70/80/90 GHz.

The agency approved of the anticipated 5G upgrade order by a 3-2 vote along party lines, making some clarifications to its position on state and local review of modifications to existing infrastructure and also adopting a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that asks for comment on proposed rule changes regarding “excavation or deployment outside the boundaries of an existing tower site and the effects of such activities on eligibility for streamlined review.”

The FCC also officially adopted procedures for the upcoming Rural Digital Opportunities Fund auction, which is slated to begin October 29 and will award $16 billion in support over 10 years for the deployment of fixed broadband networks to unserved rural locations, out of a total $20.4 billion in the program.

The FCC also is looking into the potential of expanded use of the 71–76 GHz, 81–86 GHz, 92–94 GHz, and 94.1–95 GHz bands, which are collectively known as the 70/80/90 GHz bands. These bands “are unused or underused in large parts of the country with current use of the spectrum primarily concentrated along a few high-traffic routes,” the FCC said, and commercial use could be expanded while protecting incumbents, which include federal users.

“At a time when wireless airwaves elsewhere are filling up as demand continues to surge, we need to find ways to make more productive use of our spectrum resources. That’s why today we start a proceeding aimed at revitalizing the 70, 80, and 90 GHz bands and expanding their use for services such as 5G backhaul and broadband to ships and aircraft,” FCC Chairman Pai said in a statement on the action. “As we pursue 5G deployment, it’s important to remember that networks rely on many components to function optimally. You don’t just need a solid wireless connection between your smartphone and a base station. You also need reliable backhaul to ferry data back and forth from the edge of the network to its core. That’s where the 70, 80, and 90 GHz bands can be helpful. These high-frequency bands can enable the use of small antennas that are less costly and visually intrusive than traditional wireless backhaul.”

In addition to 5G, the FCC is also looking to support the adoption of advanced broadcast technologies that support data services via the Advanced Television Systems Committee’s ATSC 3.0 standard, which enables data communications in broadcasting bands and can support two-way communications with end user devices by recognizing personal IP addresses. Mobile viewing, three-dimensional television, 4K ultra-high definition, high dynamic range, high frame rate and immersive audio are among the other features of ATSC 3.0.

The standard “expands the potential ancillary and supplemental uses of broadcast spectrum for new and innovative services, such as autonomous vehicles, smart agriculture, or telemedicine, that will complement the nation’s burgeoning 5G network,” the FCC said, adding that the new services are referred to as “broadcast internet.” A new proceeding seeks comment on how to remove any potential regulatory obstacles to the development on an ATSC 3.0 market.

Some companies are already venturing into ATSC 3.0. Earlier this year, Sinclair Broadcasting and SK Telecom launched a new joint venture, Virginia-based Cast.era, which will focus on cloud infrastructure for broadcasting, ultra-low latency over-the-top (OTT) broadcasting and targeted advertising, as well as commercialization of ATSC 3.0. SK Telecom said that the JV will bring ATSC 3.0 to Sinclair stations starting this year.