The spectrum pipeline in the U.S. looks bleak, especially since the U.S. Senate failed to renew the FCC’s auction authority, and 5G Americas is sounding the alarm.

In a new white paper, 5G Americas points out that one of the most useful spectrum bands for 5G is mid-band, which ranges between 1 GHz and 6 GHz. It offers a nice balance of speed, capacity, coverage and penetration for wireless networks.

But as of March 2023, there are no bands in the spectrum pipeline in the U.S., the organization said. In fact, T-Mobile, which built its 5G network leadership largely on the 2.5 GHz spectrum it got with Sprint, is still waiting to get the 2.5 GHz spectrum it won in last summer’s 2.5 GHz auction.

Analysts at New Street Research (NSR) noted in a March 20 investor report that T-Mobile won over 90% of the licenses in that auction, but FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel has said that the agency cannot issue 2.5 GHz band licenses until Congress reauthorizes the FCC auction authority.

NSR said they have their doubts about the FCC’s legal analysis in saying it cannot issue the licenses at the present time, but they don’t think T-Mobile will be able to get a court to force the FCC to issue the licenses prior to the auction authority being re-established, which may not be until the back half of this year.  

In a blog, 5G Americas President Chris Pearson noted that the Biden Administration and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) are attempting to find ways to release 1,500 MHz of spectrum for study in additional use cases.

But from 5G Americas’ standpoint, “we believe the United States should undertake several policies to ensure a strong and stable pipeline for spectrum,” he said.

5G Americas’ policy recommendations include the following:

  • The FCC and NTIA in conjunction with the mobile industry should create a spectrum pipeline.
  • A spectrum pipeline should prioritize the availability of lower range of frequencies in the mid-band range.
  • Address the identified potential mid-bands and extended mid-bands that need to be tapped into to support current and future 5G and beyond applications.
  • Coexistence mechanisms already developed for some bands like the 3.45 GHz band may help in developing coexistence mechanism for some new bands.
  • Actionable studies need to begin immediately to allow the introduction of commercial services for mid-band frequencies below 7 GHz.
  • Extended mid-band in the range of 8.5 – 16 GHz will help complement the lower mid-band spectrum and should be assessed.

5G Americas acknowledged that the 2.5 GHz (n41) band, CBRS (n48) band, 3.7-3.98 C-band and 3.45 – 3.55 GHz bands have been allocated in the U.S. But the identification, allocation and repurposing of spectrum is a multiyear process and the lack of spectrum in the pipeline is of critical concern.

FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel bragged during a speech at Mobile World Congress that under her leadership, the FCC held auctions in the 3.45 GHz and 2.5 GHz bands, making “real progress” in the effort to bring faster 5G to everyone in the U.S.

However, New Street’s Blair Levin noted in his March 20 report that there’s “something odd about claiming credit for fast action when more than 90% of the spectrum still cannot be used due to FCC delays in granting the licenses.” Whatever the right path for the FCC might be, the key point for investors is that T-Mobile will not be able to use those licenses for an undetermined time, he said.

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