Pushing the U.S. Forward in the Race to 5G

By Asha Keddy, vice president in the Technology, Systems Architecture & Client Group and general manager, Next Generation and Standards

This week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will consider spectrum reforms to advance 5G in the U.S. This is a critical step because the 3.7 – 4.2 GHz band in question is part of the mid-band frequencies that are the “Goldilocks” spectrum for 5G. The mid-band frequencies have wider channels than low radio bands and better propagation characteristics than high bands. More importantly, Europe, China, Korea and Japan are enabling 5G in the mid-band. A successful and expeditious conclusion to this regulatory effort is the single most important action that U.S. policymakers can take to give consumers and businesses the transformative benefits of 5G.

Recently, I had the privilege to testify in front of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Insights to discuss the importance of 5G. Intel and other tech innovators are currently working on technologies that will have significant impacts on industries such as transportation, healthcare and manufacturing. However, connecting these types of technologies will generate another massive wave of data. For instance, autonomous driving will generate 1 GB of data per second. Smart hospitals will generate around 4000 GB of data per day. And connected factories will result in an astonishing 1 million GB of data per day.

Only 5G has the scale and scope to handle this influx of information. It will expand past 4G’s limits, promoting faster data rates, more rapid response times, and facilitate support for significantly more connected devices than possible in it its predecessor technologies.

These benefits cannot be realized, however, if spectrum is not available in the right bands in the right amounts. While the FCC has led the world in making low-band and high-band spectrum available for commercial use, sufficient mid-band spectrum for 5G is lacking and won’t be easy to free up. The 3.7-4.2 GHz band in the U.S. is used by satellite operators to provide valuable backhaul services to broadcasters and cable companies—all of whom could be expected to fight to maintain the status quo.

To break the expected regulatory impasse, Intel decided to work with satellite operators to develop a win-win, market-friendly proposal. Intel and Intelsat have jointly commented to the FCC, and you can see our shared views reflected in those comments here and here.

Simply put, we propose that the FCC give the satellite operators the flexibility to make their spectrum available for terrestrial mobile service in the US where and when they see fit.  An incentive auction (that was recently employed on the 600 MHz TV band) was not feasible given the unique incumbent licensing structure in this band. As already noted, the traditional forced clearing alternative would have led to a protracted proceeding at the FCC. Instead, we decided to try to find common ground with the satellite operators.

The enormous potential of 5G made us confident that normal market incentives would enable 5G use of this key mid-band far faster than a regulatory “food fight” at the FCC.  Also, a traditional regulatory proceeding might well lead to overly cautious exclusion zones and clearance schedules that could disadvantage 5G. Under the proposal, the satellite operators will have the incentive to act on market signals regarding the value of new 5G and their first-hand knowledge of the lowest cost ways of accommodating their customers. Intel, Intelsat and SES believe this bottom-up proposal will be both more efficient and expeditious than the alternatives.

Intel looks forward to participating in this FCC proceeding as we continue to play an integral role in the coming age of 5G.