FCC Releases Millimeter Spectrum Order

Wireless Wonk

FCC Releases Millimeter Spectrum Order

By Barlow Keener, Attorney  |  November 02, 2016

The FCC (News - Alert) is on a roll with approving more unlicensed spectrum and more sharing of spectrum allowing a limited publicly owned property to be efficiently used.  

Although the FCC commissioners may disagree on many issues, they have all agreed that wireless will be delivering the broadband of the future using both licensed and unlicensed spectrum by making efficient use of the spectrum with sharing tools. Most recently, on July 14, 2016, the FCC released its millimeter, or mmW, spectrum Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking Report and Order delivering more licensed and unlicensed spectrum in several bands above 24GHz. 

Unlicensed spectrum no longer means creating a dedicated Wi-Fi-like 2.4GHz spectrum that is solely used by unlicensed radios. Rather, it means that the new spectrum can be used without paying for a license using efficient spectrum sharing methods. The first spectrum sharing order was the VHF and UHF TV White Spaces order approved in 2010. Recently, more unlicensed spectrum sharing was approved in the 3.5GHz order released on May 2, 2016, providing for 70MHz of new unlicensed spectrum. Unlike 2.4GHz unlicensed spectrum, which is exclusively unlicensed, the 3.5GHz spectrum is a three-tier priority licensed-unlicensed spectrum sharing system where spectrum channels can be automatically turned on and off for the users. The three tiers are Incumbent Access like Navy radar, Priority Access Licenses, zip code sized areas, and General Authorized Access for unlicensed uses. The database for 3.5GHz, called SAS or Spectrum (News - Alert) Access System, is the traffic director for the spectrum users.

The 24GHz spectrum order uses some of the spectrum sharing methods developed in the TV White Spaces and the 3.5GHz orders. The spectrum has been used for microwave point-to-point transmissions, ground to satellite transmissions, and local multipoint distribution service, which was created to deliver fixed digital TV. The FCC is proposing setting up five bands of use: the 28GHz band (27.5-28.35 GHz), the 39GHz band (38.6-40GHz), the 37GHz band (37-38.6GHz), the 47GHz band (47.2-50.2 GHz), and the 64-71GHz band.

The 28GHz band will be for mobile and fixed use licensed on a geographic basis consistent with the FCC’s LMDS licensing in the band allowing fixed LMDS licensed operators to use new millimeter mobile technologies. The scheme would allow for the coordination of new mobile use and fixed uses by a single provider.  This band will be licensed on a county-wide basis.

In the 37GHz band, the FCC will implement federal and non-federal sharing, protecting existing, limited mobile federal uses. Currently, there are no non-federal operations in the band creating new greenfield opportunities for commercial uses. Five licensed 200MHz blocks will be opened in each geographic licensed area and, similar to the 3.5GHz method, a shared 600MHz block at 37-37.6GHz will be created. The shared licensees will be called Shared Access Licensees, or SAL. The licensed geographic areas will be the same as the adjacent 39GHz Partial Economic Area, or PEA, licenses to allow for use by a single licensee of both 37GHz and 39GHz for a total of 2,400MHz of contiguous spectrum in a single large licensed geographical area. The PEA is a large area, the size of the traditional telephone area code, and it is the size of the LMDS licensed area.

In the 39GHz band, the FCC will authorize new and existing licensees the right to use fixed and mobile services. The size of the 39GHz band license areas will also be Partial Economic Area sizes. In the 47GHz band, the FCC asked for comments on using database spectrum sharing systems similar to the 3.5GHz Spectrum Access System for sharing between terrestrial use occupying Partial Economic Area licenses and stationary fixed satellite service uses. For the 65-71GHz band, the FCC order provided that it will operate like the 57-64GHz band under Part 15 rules for unlicensed Wi-Fi like services or WiGig operations and for short range motion sensing.

This new 24GHz and above millimeter FCC order will open up large swaths of new spectrum for licensed and unlicensed fixed and mobile broadband uses while protecting existing federal and non-federal users using spectrum sharing methods.  The tremendous amounts of new open spectrum in these bands will allow new fixed and mobile broadband technologies to deliver very high bandwidth broadband wirelessly. Most significantly, the order creates database-sharing technologies across the bands that will insure that spectrum is put to use by both unlicensed and licensed users. Rather than delivering LMDS digital TV, the technology can deliver high gig broadband carrying streaming video.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi