FCC explores millimetre-wave radio for 5G mobile

As vendors begin exploring higher frequency bands for 5G, the US regulator has kicked off a proceeding to lay down the framework to license spectrum in those ranges.

The US Federal Communications Commission has launched an investigation into the feasibility of using spectrum above 24GHz for 5G mobile services, which could help operators better cope with increasing mobile data traffic.

The regulator on Friday voted to open a "notice of inquiry" into what bands above 24GHz — otherwise known as millimetre-wave spectrum — would be suitable for cellular services, as well as taking the first steps in developing a licensing framework for that spectrum.

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The FCC's proceedings begin against the backdrop of industry and technical groups already exploring the use of higher frequencies for the as-yet-unstandardised 5G, the successor to today's 4G LTE.

Samsung last week boasted that it had delivered download speeds of 7.5Gbps on a 28 GHz 5G network, which displayed its technology to overcome the short range that higher frequency bands suffer from.

The catch with bands above 24GHz is that they've generally been considered only suitable where a radio has a direct  line-of-sight to a receiver, but the FCC notes that vendors including Samsung and Ericsson have developed technologies that overcome line-of-sight limitations in frequency bands ranging from 5.8GHz to 72GHz. Others investigating millimetre-wave wireless mobile include Intel, Nokia, AT&T, Huawei, and Qualcomm.

The FCC said its inquiry will be informed by work being undertaken to develop the 5G standard, but won't attempt to define the characteristics of 5G or influence the standard.

The regulator is also only looking at higher frequencies as a supplement to current efforts to make additional spectrum available bands below 3 GHz, which support today's 3G and 4G mobile networks.

The Wireless Association's president Meredith Atwell welcomed the FCC's inquiry. "While we will always work to locate more cleared licensed spectrum under 3 GHz, we also need to expand our search to find other complementary spectrum bands, and this Notice is an important step in that effort. I commend the Commission’s forward-looking approach to spectrum policy."

Separately, Google last week requested permission to test millimetre-wave frequency in California. While it's not known exactly what Google is testing, it's been speculated that it could be for delivering wireless broadband to the residential market and a possible extension to Google's existing Google Fiber network.

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