Author(s): Raghu Gopal
Last week, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted unanimously to approve a set of rules allocating spectrum for 5G wireless broadband communications in the US. The vote makes it the first country in the world to approve rules for communications operating at frequencies above 24 GHz. The FCC has allocated spectrum to 5G but the private sector will produce the technical standards.
The FCC said that networks based on upcoming 5G technologies would provide speeds more than 10 times faster than today's 4G networks, enabling more Americans to access high-speed Internet.
The FCC's new rules open up a total of almost 11 GHz of high-frequency spectrum for mobile and fixed-line wireless broadband in the so-called millimetre wave band in the 28 GHz, 37 GHz and 39 GHz ranges, and a new unlicensed band between 64 GHz and 71 GHz. Despite the limited propagation of millimetre wave frequencies, fresh capacity and high throughput means the technology will be used for bandwidth-intensive applications with small cells and techniques such as beam-forming — essential to delivering acceptable coverage.
It's important to note that although equipment suppliers and carriers have begun 5G research and trials, the industry hasn't yet settled on standards. The first standards release will come from 3GPP Release 15, due in the second half of 2018.
However, there is both competition and cooperation across nations to develop and adopt 5G. For example, South Korea and Japan have ambitious plans to deploy 5G coverage by the time they host the Olympics, in 2018 and 2020, respectively. AT&T and Verizon have also undertaken trials with commercial networks likely to launch in 2017. This would be well ahead of 5G standards with fixed-wireless usage in millimetre wave spectrum likely to represent the first commercial efforts. This underlines the importance of the FCC's ruling.
There has been a clear aspiration in the US to become a tech leader in 5G. The FCC's announcement was followed by a statement from the White House announcing the formation of the Advanced Wireless Research Initiative — a $400 million 5G wireless research project funded by the federal government. The US authorities, which have historically taken a non-interventionist approach to wireless development, aren't just regulating, but now dedicating vision and resources. The US led in 4G technology and is preparing to do so again in 5G.