Expanding Mid-Band Spectrum Is Imperative to U.S. Economy

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently released the agenda for its Open Meeting on July 12th. At the heart of the agenda is a proposal to make more intensive use of mid-band spectrum - a wireless band that could facilitate deployment of next-generation technologies to keep the U.S. ahead of the global technology curve.  

The mid-band spectrum under discussion at the FCC is 500 MHz between 3.7 and 4.2 GHz, commonly known as the C band. Although the FCC has taken steps in the past to invest in high and low-band expansion, mid-band spectrum has been historically underutilized, as FCC commissioner Michael O’Rielly pointed out. Fortunately, the FCC is going to consider the “forgotten middle” in its upcoming meeting.

“Other countries are looking at this spectrum neighborhood as a prime resource for deploying 5G,” commented FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in his June FCC blog. “When it comes to 5G, we need to keep the playbook fresh and forward leaning.”

The huge economic potential 5G could unlock is not a secret. Numerous studies have shown that 5G deployment would produce massive benefits to taxpayers and the economy. According to a 2017 report by Accenture, deploying 5G could create up to 3 million new jobs, add $500 billion to U.S. GDP, and bring $160 billion in savings and benefits to local communities. An analysis by American Consumer Institute in 2017 estimated that 5G deployment would generate $533 billion in GDP and $1.2 trillion in long-run consumer benefits.

Freeing up mid-band spectrum is crucial to speeding 5G deployment, the importance of which has been recognized by lawmakers. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) wrote a letter to Chairman Pai in June 2017 urging the FCC to explore new allocations in the mid-band frequencies (also included in his MOBILE NOW Act). The House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing in November 2017 to discuss fifth generation wireless technology (5G) and its potential to revolutionize American competitiveness.

Chris Pearson, president of 5G Americas, testified at the hearing that the U.S. needs to development all ranges of spectrum if it wants to stay competitive in deploying advanced networks. He stated that “spectrum from 3-6 GHz easily supports mobility, and provides a balanced mix of bandwidth and coverage, something that high and low-band frequencies alone can’t offer independently.”

Promoting access to mid-band spectrum would benefit U.S. companies and consumers by creating opportunities for international spectrum harmonization. Since many European and Asian countries, including Germany, China, Japan, South Korea, and others, have proposed to develop mid-band spectrum for next-generation wireless systems, making mid-band spectrum more available in the U.S. for 5G would facilitate harmonizing spectrum on a global scale. Promoting the international harmonization of those bands would allow American companies to have greater economies of scales, saving taxpayers money by making wireless services more affordable.

The distinct features of mid-band spectrum give it the potential to unleash a wave of economic growth through connecting more Americans to 5G deployment. Mid-band spectrum has a combination of wide coverage and high capacity, making it of particular interest to the U.S. for extending the benefits well beyond the wireless industry.

Mid-band spectrum would be a crucial platform for the next generation of wireless technology to transform not only the electronic industries, but also other industries that are vital to U.S. economy since those industries depend on robust wireless spectrum to thrive. As a valuable component of America’s wireless infrastructure, mid-band spectrum would also be a great candidate for auction, which could generate a significant amount of revenue for taxpayers.

The U.S. needs to expand mid-band spectrum for flexible wireless use if it wants to secure its leadership in the next generation of wireless technology and fuel the nation’s economic future. The FCC’s proposal to consider ways to expand opportunities for wireless broadband services in mid-band spectrum at the July meeting would be a huge step forward for both the agency and U.S. economy.