It’s Finally Happening: Standards, Spectrum, and Innovative Products Are Making 5G a Reality

By Reza Arefi, Director, Spectrum Strategy, Next Generation and Standards Group, Intel Corporation

There was great excitement when, about two years ago, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) made an unprecedented move in announcing the intention to open “millimeter-wave spectrum” for commercial 5G development. As those of us working on 5G know, forward-thinking spectrum policy is critical for next-generation wireless networks.

And now it’s really happening. In 2018, we saw the first of these bands become open for auction to mobile communications companies. We can expect to see additional auctions rolling out through 2019, and with recent FCC notices of proposed rulemaking (NPRMs), we’re seeing signs of movement in the midrange of the spectrum as well.

These are commendable and encouraging signs that federal regulators and policymakers are taking the right steps to help U.S. businesses and industries deliver on the promise of 5G. With these exciting changes in mind, here is a quick look at the current state of 5G, across the spectrum:

High-range (“millimeter- and submillimeter-wave frequencies”): This aforementioned range is already in play, with the recent auction of the 28 GHz and the 24 GHz bands. In 2019, the FCC plans to auction the upper 37 GHz, 39 GHz, and possibly 47 GHz bands. Combined, these auctions mean 5 GHz of 5G spectrum suddenly opened up for commercial 5G development — more than all other flexible use bands combined. Also on the table is another 2.75 GHz of 5G spectrum in the 26 and 42 GHz bands.

Midrange (3 to 7 GHz): Mid-band spectrum is a target for 5G build-out given its balanced coverage and capacity characteristics. In light of this, the FCC recently adopted new rules for the 3.55 to 3.7 GHz range that would accelerate operators deploying 5G in that band. One promising development is the FCC’s release of two NPRMs. The first proposes the 3.7 to 4.2 GHz range for satellite operators to open up spectrum to mobile bidders. About 200 MHz of spectrum will be released in the next two to three years from this effort. The second NPRM concerns opening up the 6 to 7 GHz range for unlicensed commercial use.

Low-range: The FCC is acting to improve use of low-band spectrum (useful for wider coverage) for 5G services, with targeted changes to the 600 MHz, 800 MHz, and 900 MHz bands.

Additionally, Congress has directed the FCC and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to work toward opening up an additional 100 MHz of federal spectrum in the 3.45 GHz to 3.55 GHz range. Of course, this shift needs to be studied to see how mission-critical federal systems can be protected, but just putting this on the table is important for realizing the potential of 5G.

These are all meaningful steps taken by the FCC and U.S. policymakers that will ensure multiple industries and businesses will have a solid 5G infrastructure to build on. Already, I’m seeing manufacturers in the Intel ecosystem releasing product prototypes and operators conducting trials of these products on their networks. Intel is collaborating with ecosystem and vertical industry partners to define, prototype, test, and deliver 5G standards and solutions now — not in the lab but in the field, in real-world trials across the globe.

From connected cars to AR/VR, smart homes, industrial applications, and cities, there’s a tremendous amount of previously unmatched scale, innovation, and expertise that is helping to enable the next generation of wireless products and services.

The continued expansion of spectrum allocation for commercial 5G development will only hasten the pace. Together, we look forward to accelerating down the path toward greater connectivity for a better tomorrow.