The FCC’s Plan to Streamline 5G Rollouts
By Joyce Deuley
One of the first keynotes of this year’s CTIA Super Mobility Conference was delivered by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman, Tom Wheeler. In his keynote, Wheeler discussed the benefits of 5G networks, particularly in terms of benefits of IoT (with an emphasis on smart cities and healthcare), but also shared the FCC’s three strategies for rolling out 5G. Wheeler approached these strategies the way a well-weathered general would amidst a period of confusion and uncertainty: in firm, absolute terms. The FCC has a clear path laid out for how 5G spectrum and networks will be allocated and operated, and knows that it will only come to fruition if we work as a team.
Ensuring Ample Availability of Spectrum
According to Wheeler, the FCC has retained a light touch to political involvement in terms of spectrum allocation, citing back to the 1996 Telecommunications Act that serves as the model for the “open Internet,” and is one that has been proven to be good roadmap for innovation and growth.
Continuing in this vein, the Chairman claimed that the organization has created a market that would have made a 125 MHz of “beach-front” spectrum, but was halted due to involvement from the major carriers. Despite these barriers, however, the FCC is confident that its reverse auction will be a successful one, particularly within the 115 MHz bands, stating that it is within these “mid bands where Europe sees its 5G development,” and that there needs to be the creation of new services to use as sharing tools in an attempt to open up more spectrum. There is some debate about whether or not the $86 billion target will extend the auction well into early 2017 because the FCC won’t be able to source enough spectrum in larger markets at an attractive price.
Additionally, the FCC is determined to continue to “encourage, provide, and stay out of the [industry’s] way.” Not only that, but the FCC will also facilitate innovation and experimentation by providing experimentation licenses, greater flexibility for researchers, universities, and companies to field test 5G technologies.
Cost Provisioning in Infrastructure
But making spectrum widely available isn’t enough. In order to truly leverage the powerful benefits of a fully-loaded 5G network, we will need to complete serious network upgrades via updated infrastructure, as well as increased numbers of towers, particularly throughout rural areas to ensure even coverage. In an effort to assist carriers in rolling out these vast networks, Wheeler has talked about the FCC incentivizing carriers and developers to better streamline deployments, however he admitted that with the deployment of cells and cell sites, and limited back haul, end customers may experience higher costs.
How can the government assist in funding new tower and antenna construction? Wheeler says that companies will need to be able to share the story of what 5G is, in “real terms,” rather than discussing it from a technical stand point. Additionally, it is important to not talk about IoT benefits or use cases too broadly, but speak about them in terms of opportunities in smart cities and health care. “Let’s paint the picture of how it will launch immersive education, create new jobs and services. 5G isn’t a technology; it’s a revolution.”
Removing Hurdles to Prevent Silos
In order to overcome the challenges that lay before us, including local authority approval and high costs, Wheeler emphasized that the IoT industry at large needs to think creatively about smart solutions. Wheeler stated that the industry should “learn from experience and get in front of [these challenges]” and work towards solutions together. The FCC, however, isn’t recommending that we “open doors to consolidation,” just that when 5G rolls out, the industry will be trying to manage and work around “millions of towers, 4 major carriers,” and that “the Commission is committed to cutting that red tape,” in order to do lead the market for 5G just as it did for 4G.
Wheeler, and the rest of the industry, is confident that the 5G tide will lift all boats, and that it is imperative for us to commit ourselves to “maximizing this for rural America, not just as sole profits for urban America.” With the majority of the U.S. population (roughly 60%) living in just a mere 5% of available land, urban areas tend to get the lion’s share of focus, but when discussing the advantages of 5G networks, unprecedented data speeds with zero latency, there is too much opportunity to not extend that beyond large city centers.
Additionally, whichever country manages to pave the road for 5G will be leading the pack, which is a position that the U.S. is eager to achieve. But, part of this home-front advantage will reside in which country can resolve cyber security and data exploitation concerns, as Wheeler stressed that “cyber security [must be] addressed during the design phase for all 5G devices and solutions.” It can be difficult to see the forest for the trees, and similarly, the FCC was at CTIA to remind us of the John Gartner quote, that “history doesn’t look like history when you’re living it,” and that this industry isn’t just “living” history, it’s in fact writing it.