The FCC has discovered that 5G is a major revenue generator for the regulatory agency. At the beginning of the year, the auction of mid-band spectrum on the C-Band brought in a record setting $80.9 billion in bids. That's because mid-band airwaves, as T-Mobile has shown, can make a huge difference in providing faster average 5G download data speeds to subscribers.
The FCC votes to hold another auction of mid-band spectrum this October
Verizon has focused on its high-band mmWave spectrum from the beginning, and while that allowed Big Red to take the early lead in the 5G speed tests, the characteristics of mmWave signals makes it extremely difficult to find and connect to. Mid-band, on the other hand, travels farther than high-band and delivers faster 5G signals than low-band spectrum. As a result, Verizon spent more than $45 billion in the auction and AT&T bid over $23 billion. Since T-Mobile already obtained plenty of mid-band airwaves with its acquisition of Sprint, the carrier bid only $9 billion.
According to the FCC (via Bloomberg), the FCC voted 4-0 today to set some ground rules for an upcoming auction of mid-band spectrum. 100MHz of spectrum in the 3.45GHz band will be auctioned off in October and the airwaves will be licensed for commercial use. Currently, the Defense Department uses this mid-band spectrum for applications related to the use of radar systems.
FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said during today's monthly meeting that "We take action that will move us closer to 5G service that is fast, secure, reliable, and most importantly available everywhere in the country." U.S. wireless providers like AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon have told the FCC that auctioning off the mid-band spectrum in large tracts will result in faster expansion of 5G coverage in the U.S.
An FCC fact sheet/document quotes the agency as saying, "The Beat China by Harnessing Important, National Airwaves for 5G Act of 2020, which was included in the Fiscal Year 2021 omnibus spending bill, requires the Commission to work with its Federal partners to bring all of the 3.45 GHz band spectrum to market for next-generation wireless use through a system of competitive bidding by December 31, 2021. Beginning the implementation of this Congressional mandate, this item reallocates 100 megahertz in the 3.45 GHz band for flexible use wireless services and adopt rules to implement the new 3.45 GHz Service, The framework adopted for the 3.45 GHz band will enable full-power commercial use and provide flexibility to future licensees in deploying their networks in this band, while also ensuring that federal incumbents are still protected where and when they require continued access to the band and relocate important non-federal weather forecasting services so that they are not adversely impacted by our actions. Collectively, the 3.45 GHz band and the neighboring 3.5 GHz and 3.7 GHz bands will offer 530 megahertz of contiguous mid-band spectrum for 5G services."
It just so happens that the previous FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai, was still in office when the record breaking auction was held. Around the time that the FCC revealed that nearly $81 billion had been bid, Pai stated that "These results represent a strong endorsement by the private sector of the service rules and transition plan put in place by the FCC to quickly make the C-band a critical part of 5G rollout in the United States. And they vindicate the hard choices the FCC made during the C-band proceeding—and that we made them. The FCC confronted a host of technical, legal, practical, and political challenges in structuring this auction. It would have been easy to delay. But we rightly pushed ahead and overcame every one of those obstacles. As a result, we significantly advanced United States leadership in 5G and have enabled America’s wireless consumers to more quickly benefit from 5G services."
The U.S. would love to take the global lead in 5G since the next generation of wireless connectivity will deliver download data speeds 10 to 100 times that of 4G LTE. New products and technologies will be created thanks to those data speeds. Surgeons will be able to operate remotely on a patient lying on an operating room table on the opposite coast. In other words, the country that grabs the global leadership in 5G will have a huge technological lead over others.