FCC says 600 MHz transition will take ‘several years’

Ahead of next week’s US auction of 600 MHz spectrum Tom Wheeler, Chairman of the FCC, has told US politicians it will take operators several years to fully adopt the new spectrum.

It has already taken the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) four years to persuade TV broadcasters to offer up their 600 MHz spectrum, which will be especially useful for rural and indoor coverage, for sale.

This is the process that will start on 29 March – a ‘reverse auction’ that will see the FCC accumulate as much spectrum as possible from TV companies in order to repackage it in order to auction it out to anyone who wants to use it for mobile broadband.

This repackaging process itself will likely be protracted, with the aim being to then try to create distinct, contiguous blocks of spectrum for the broadcast and mobile industries, respectively. Only then, it seems, can the main auction commence, with the reverse auction presumably determining at least its starting price levels.

“I recognize that getting the transition right is as important as getting the auction itself right,” Wheeler told the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology of the House of Representatives. “Like the auction, the transition will be a complex, multi-disciplinary effort that will span several years.

“The task force approach has served us well in designing and implementing the auction, and I believe it is the appropriate structure for ensuring that the transition has the focus and attention it requires. I therefore intend to maintain the task force when the auction is complete; as we move forward, its mission will evolve from auction to transition.”

Wheeler also looked to educate the Representatives on the matter of 5G, noting it’s the ‘next big thing’ in spectrum policy. “At this point, none of us knows exactly what 5G will be, but we can be certain that the spectrum requirements will be dynamic and ever-changing,” he said. “Accordingly, our spectrum policy must be equally dynamic to address a wireless reality that is still evolving.”

A key spectrum resource for 5G, according to the FCC, will be millimetre wave, which it defines as 24 GHz and above. Wheeler had a bit of a moan about the ITU rejecting the 28 GHz band for 5G study, but says he hasn’t given up on it. He concluded by saying that is conversations at MWC 2016 led him to believe the world is hanging on every 5G word to come out of the US.

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