Looking to help speed up the rollout of nationwide 5G service in the U.S., the FCC said yesterday that it will be voting next month on a plan that would allow the agency to auction off some mid-band spectrum. To allow this auction to proceed, the FCC would drop a requirement that the mostly unused airwaves in the 2.5GHz band be held for educational purposes. Reuters reports that the spectrum was originally reserved in the 1960s for the Educational Broadband Service (EBS). EBS was originally designed to allow schools to transmit live or pre-recorded instructional material to locations within school districts and on college campuses.
The 2.5GHz mid-band spectrum is also leased and used by Sprint. Once the latter merges with T-Mobile, as now seems likely, the latter's low-band 600MHz airwaves will be used with Sprint's holdings to create a nationwide sub-6GHz 5G network. Both Verizon and AT&T appear to be concentrating on using mmWave technology for their 5G networks. Since these ultra high-band airwaves don't have a wide range, the nation's top two wireless providers could take longer than a combined T-Mobile-Sprint to offer mobile 5G service coast-to-coast.
Not surprisingly, the U.S. Education Department is not happy about this news. In a letter written to the FCC earlier this month, the department said that the spectrum being auctioned should be employed for educational use only. The Education Department also suggested that some revenue from the auction be used to help students who cannot do homework assignments because they cannot access the internet.
According to FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, 90% of the spectrum held by educational institutions are leased to wireless companies. Carr says, "many educational institutions have contracted with those providers so that each can focus on what it does best: the former can educate students, and the latter can build wireless networks."
5G is the next generation of wireless connectivity and offers speeds up to 10 times faster than 4G LTE. Once 5G becomes available nationwide, it should lead to the development of new industries and companies.