The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Friday voted to proceed with offering commercial telecoms operators free access to additional wireless frequencies in the 3.5GHz-3.7GHz band by adopting rules for the ‘Citizens Broadband Radio Service’ enabling sharing spectrum currently used by military radars and other government organisations. Specifically, the decision adds another 100MHz of spectrum in the 3550MHz-3700MHz band to the 50MHz in that range already available for commercial use. Reuters reports that the spectrum is suitable for high data throughput over relatively short distances and may be used to boost the capacity of existing cellular networks, especially in densely populated locations or indoors, while the frequencies could also be utilised for machine-to-machine (M2M) wireless device connectivity.
Following the decision, the Citizens Broadband Radio Service system will now be set up to allow commercial operators to access additional frequencies without interfering with incumbent users. The plan, in development since 2012, envisages wireless providers and others using the new 3.5GHz frequencies without charge (‘the General Authorised Access tier’), similarly to Wi-Fi or other unlicensed frequency usage, or by buying short-term exclusive licences in certain geographical high-demand areas (‘the Priority Access tier’). To operate the scheme and facilitate coexistence between these two tiers of users alongside the ‘protected incumbent’ tier, one or more Spectrum Access Systems will be run by private commercial entities, the FCC’s statement added. Interest in the scheme has come from various wireless network operators, vendors, internet players and device companies, including Verizon, Google, Qualcomm and Ericsson. Scott Belcher, chief executive of the Telecommunications Industry Association, said in a statement reacting to the latest decision: ‘The spectrum crunch remains very real and the FCC’s action represents significant progress towards opening more spectrum for broadband.’