FCC Plans to Reallocate Educational TV Spectrum For 5G

To create space for 5G in the mid-band spectrum, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) plans to reallocate a block of 2.5GHz spectrum once reserved for educational TV and put it on the auction block. The reallocation vote is scheduled for July 10, with the auction planned for some time next year. Mid-band spectrum, also called sub-6GHz frequencies, delivers slower rates but better penetrates buildings and travels faster than millimeter wave signals. Crowdsourced network coverage service Opensignal quantified 5G speeds in South Korea.

VentureBeat reports that “many countries are launching 5G first in generally unused 3.5-3.7GHz spectrum, but existing U.S. users in that frequency range, including naval radar systems, have made reallocation challenging.” FCC chair Ajit Pai said that the upcoming auction of the 2.5GHz spectrum will give 5G providers access to “the single largest band of contiguous spectrum below 3GHz.” Sprint is currently offering 5G on the 2.5GHz band, on spectrum leased earlier that will not be impacted by the reallocation.

Pai added that although the mid-band spectrum was allocated for educational TV, it “generally sat unused.” The auction also gives Native American tribes “early, region-specific access to parts of the 2.5GHz spectrum needed to offer mobile service on their land.”

The biggest challenge with the spectrum in question is that “its total bandwidth is 114MHz, which alone isn’t enough to deliver ultra-high-speed 5G service.” Carriers could, however, aggregate it with “adjacent or separate spectrum to provide faster service than 4G, or more consistent indoor service than millimeter wave-only 5G.”

At the July 10 meeting, the FCC will also “set final terms” for the December 10 auctions of 37, 39 and 47GHz millimeter wave bands, which, said Pai, will be the largest in U.S. history. Recent auctions for 24 and 28GHz spectrum raised $2.7 billion.

Elsewhere VB reports that Opensignal found that, “South Korean 5G users were seeing 111.8Mbps real-world average download speeds, versus 75.8Mbps average speeds with flagship 4G phones that support the fastest or near-fastest late-stage LTE technologies.” This doesn’t mean that 5G speeds are only 111.8Mbps, notes VB, “but rather that the 5G service being offered to users on a somewhat spotty basis is delivering that speed on average across all cell towers.”

Users of other smartphones experienced “download speed averages of 47.7Mbps.” All the data came from the South Korean cities where 5G has debuted. “The upshot,” says VB, is that, “5G services are already offering average download performance nearly 50 percent faster than late-stage 4G, and over 23 times faster than standard 4G.”