US Auctioning mmWave for 5G

As soon as the FCC’s “technical problem involving upfront payments by auction bidders” got fixed, it announced a plan to kick start two mmWave auctions, as part of the agenda for the April 17, 2018 Commission meeting.

Notwithstanding that some parties – notably T Mobile – might have preferred that the FCC run one large process to license multiple bands together, it decided to get the ball rolling on a first auction of 28 GHz licenses – to start on November 18, 2018 (Auction #101) – and to follow that with a second of 24 GHz licenses (Auction #102).

28 GHz followed by 24 GHz

With 2 blocks of 425 MHz in the 28 GHz range, and seven blocks of 100 MHz in the 24 GHz range, the two auctions will bring 1.55 GHz of new capacity… in the markets where both bands are available – much of the 28 GHz band is already licensed, notably to Verizon.

Operators will each likely target 100 MHz or more of capacity in these bands to support 5G services.

The two auctions will be big not just in MHz, but in numbers of licenses. In 28 GHz, there will be 3,074 licenses on auction – 2 blocks in each of 1,537 counties, even so representing only 24% of the US population.  In 24 GHz, there will be 2,912 licenses on auction – 7 blocks in each of 416 partial economic areas (PEAs).

The mmWave Opportunity

The FCC’s Spectrum Frontiers docket is focused on mmWave spectrum auctions of frequencies above 24 GHz. Its initial approach for licensed bands was to focus on the 28 GHz LMDS range along with 37 GHz and 39 GHz. These bands represent a total of 3,850 MHz of spectrum capacity. To that it added the 24 GHz and 47 GHz bands, bringing the total to 4,950 MHz to be made available in future auctions.

The importance of mmWave cannot be understated, with these bands, once licensed, representing about a 7 fold increase in total spectral capacity available to the mobile industry.