U.S. telecom agency plans new spectrum auction to speed 5G networks

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission said on Monday the agency plans to launch new auctions of high-band spectrum starting later this year, to speed the launch of next-generation 5G networks.

US Federal Communications Commissoner Ajit Pai delivers a keynote speech at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, February 26, 2018. REUTERS/Sergio Perez

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a speech in Barcelona, Spain, that he plans to hold an auction of spectrum in the 28 GHz band in November, followed immediately by an auction of spectrum in the 24 GHz band, but must first get congressional approval by May 13 to proceed.

“We aspire to lead the world in 5G,” Pai said at the Mobile World Congress. “I am hopeful that we’ll be able to kick off a major spectrum auction in November.”

Republicans praised the planned auctions.

“The race to 5G is a sprint, not a marathon, and the proposed spectrum auctions will help ensure the United States remains at the forefront of this emerging technology,” said U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden and Representative Marsha Blackburn in a joint statement.

Walden’s panel unanimously approved a bill this month allowing the FCC to deposit upfront payments from spectrum bidders with the U.S. Treasury. Under current law, the FCC must deposit such payments with private banks in interest-bearing accounts, but current regulations make that impossible.

Carriers have spent billions of dollars acquiring spectrum and beginning to develop and test 5G networks, which are expected to be at least 100 times faster than current 4G networks and cut latency to less than one thousandth of a second from one hundredth of a second in 4G, the FCC has said.

The technology could allow for eventual virtual surgery or controlling machines remotely and 5G networks allow for use of new bands of spectrum for mobile broadband.

Verizon Communications Inc has announced it will begin its first 5G commercial rollout in Sacramento, California, in the second half of 2018, Pai noted.

AT&T Inc earlier this month announced its first 5G commercial rollouts launch in Atlanta, Georgia, and Dallas and Waco, Texas, planned for later this year.

Last week, the FCC granted to Samsung Electronics Co the world’s first regulatory approval of 28 GHz base stations, which will be used for Verizon’s planned 5G launch.

CTIA, a U.S. trade group, said the “wireless industry needs the certainty of a spectrum pipeline, and Chairman Pai’s commitment is a critical next step to meeting the United States’ 5G ambitions.”

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Tom Brown