Responding to demands by high tech companies for more so-called “mid-band” unlicensed spectrum to augment that already made available in the 5 GHz Band, which accommodates Wi-Fi, Internet of Things (“IoT”), and other Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure (“U-NII”) applications as well as Licensed Assisted Access and LTE-Unlicensed solutions, the FCC will vote on a draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) at its October 26 Open Meeting to make up to 1200 megahertz of nearby spectrum available for similar purposes. The draft leaves no doubt that, to make the 5.925-7.125 GHz band (the “6 GHz Band”) available for unlicensed use, sophisticated sharing mechanisms will need to be in place. Various parts of this frequency range are already used by fixed, mobile, and satellite services, and the draft item commits to protecting these incumbents and allowing these services to grow while at the same time opening the band to increased numbers of unlicensed devices. To achieve this, the Commission is considering drawing upon its experience with white spaces and the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (at 3550-3750 MHz), and would seek comment on numerous subjects before adopting rules. The draft item would be a stepping stone to enabling unlicensed devices to operate with wider bandwidths and higher data rates, which the Commission hopes would set off a new wave of innovation in consumer devices complementing its recent moves to spur the rollout of next-generation 5G networks. The NPRM, when adopted, will be sure to generate a wave of comments from both equipment manufacturers and broadband providers hungry for more spectrum as well as incumbent public safety organizations, utilities, satellite companies, and various other fixed and mobile services licensees seeking to protect and hoping to expand their existing operations in the 6 GHz Band, particularly as relocation options for other similar spectrum are increasingly scarce.
Wireless carriers are a major step closer to using unlicensed spectrum to ease network congestion and boost speeds following the FCC’s authorization of the first LTE-Unlicensed (“LTE-U”) devices on February 22, 2017. LTE-U technology allows carriers to deliver mobile traffic over unlicensed spectrum in the 5 GHz band already occupied by Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and other technologies. The recipients of the equipment authorizations are Ericsson and Nokia. The certifications by the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology (“OET”) mean that the devices in question satisfy the technical criteria of the FCC designed to prevent harmful interference to radio communications services. Those rules stipulate that unlicensed devices must accept any harmful interference they receive from any source. Unlicensed devices have been certified for decades. The announcement of the certifications of the LTE-U devices represents an important milestone in the FCC’s recent focus on spectrum sharing and broadband deployment because these devices are specifically designed to support broadband and work in an integrated fashion with commercial mobile broadband providers’ networks. In short, this is not just a pumped up version of Wi-Fi offload, which carriers have used for years to relieve congestion on mobile networks. These devices mean that the hundreds of megahertz of 5 GHz spectrum that the cable and unlicensed communities fought for years to gain access to – the so-called Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure (“U-NII”) bands – will now be available for LTE technologies.