In an era of sharply divided views, it’s refreshing to see policymakers of all political stripes line up behind the idea that responding to this country’s mobile broadband needs requires the right balance of licensed and unlicensed spectrum.
At a recent Senate Commerce Hearing on FCC nominations, many participants recognized the need for additional spectrum to support growing demand for mobile broadband. Several specifically pointed out the need for a balance of licensed and unlicensed spectrum to ensure that diverse services and business models in the wireless space all continue to thrive. Chairman Pai noted that “there is no telling what innovators will pioneer” with unlicensed spectrum, while now-confirmed Commissioner Rosenworcel stated that “unlicensed spectrum powers our lives…and we’re going to need more of it.” Senator Hassan recognized the Commission’s good work in advancing a balanced spectrum policy, while Senator Gardner noted the importance of a mix of spectrum to continue economic progress.
The FCC is on the right path toward opening up new frequencies for licensed and unlicensed use. It just granted the first 600 MHz wireless licenses after the historic broadcast incentive auction. It is likely to consider in the near term modest changes to the 3.5 GHz rules that will support investment in both licensed and lightly-licensed networks. It is considering how best to balance the need for licensed and unlicensed millimeter wave spectrum in its Spectrum Frontiers proceeding. And, according to a recent blog by Commissioner O’Rielly, “there is a good chance the Commission will open the 5.9 GHz band for sharing between auto safety systems and unlicensed services.”
Chairman Pai has set an ambitious FCC agenda, and it’s important to ensure that these spectrum priorities, especially unlicensed spectrum priorities, don’t get lost in the shuffle. Companies continue to innovate and deploy in the unlicensed bands, and consumer demand for unlicensed services continues to grow. Cisco’s latest Visual Networking Index predicts that in the United States, Fixed/Wi-Fi IP traffic will reach 34.0 Exabytes per month in 2021, up from 10.9 Exabytes per month in 2016, a more than three-fold increase.
To support growing demand and new innovations in the unlicensed space and follow through on its commitment to a balanced spectrum policy, the Commission should in the near-term:
Authorize unlicensed use of the 5.9 GHz band, which is critical to supporting Gigabit Wi-Fi
Maintain its designation of 64-71 GHz for unlicensed use and consider additional high-frequency unlicensed spectrum designations
We look forward to working with the FCC on a balanced spectrum policy plan that will continue to support the growth of America’s broadband networks. To learn more about how spectrum policy can change the way we use the internet, see NCTA’s page on the future of Wi-Fi.