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In separate deals coming just after this year’s Mobile World Congress, United States and European Union officials have reached agreements to hasten the allocation of radio spectrum for next-generation 5G wireless networks, Reuters reports. Both governments were spurred to action by the threat of becoming internationally non-competitive, as representatives moved faster than might have been imagined only a week earlier.
In the United States, senators and representatives from both the Republican and Democratic sides said that they have agreed on a bill that lets the FCC receive upfront payments from 5G spectrum bidders, resolving an issue FCC Chairman Ajit Pai identified earlier this week, and enabling auctions of 5G radio spectrum to go forward. The bill also includes provisions to identify additional 5G spectrum and reduce bureaucracy in the infrastructure building process. A vote in the House is expected on Tuesday, March 6.
If passed, the bill will enable the FCC to proceed with planned auctions of 28GHz and 24GHz millimeter wave spectrum, which were tentatively scheduled for November pending Congressional action. Pai suggested that the auctions would be delayed if Congress failed to act by May 13, but the rapid Congressional response suggests that the U.S. government is impressively ready to expedite 5G when asked. The FCC’s next move will likely be to open up 3.7-4.2MHz midband spectrum, another key 5G enabler.
In Europe, meanwhile, lawmakers representing European Union countries agreed late last night to free up 5G radio frequencies for a 20-year time period. While Reuters reports that a telecommunications industry lobbying group was seeking at least a 25-year timeframe, the deal enables 5G spectrum to become available throughout the EU by 2020.
Similar to the U.S., European countries are focusing on 3.6GHz midband and 26GHz millimeter wave spectrum bands for 5G. The 3.6GHz spectrum will likely prove better suited to handheld devices, as its radio signals are not as position-sensitive, while the 26GHz spectrum can more easily be used in so-called “fixed 5G” hardware designed to be installed and used in one place.
Both of the deals are expected to hasten the arrival of autonomous cars, smart cities, fully wireless virtual reality, and ultra high-speed mobile internet services. In the United States, AT&T and Verizon have both committed to 5G rollouts later this year, while European carriers have made only tentative steps towards rolling out 5G, citing regulatory and financial uncertainties — a situation likely to improve with the latest agreements.
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