5G spectrum auctions expected in 2021 after Pentagon gives up frequencies

The Department of Defense has relinquished mid-range frequency spectrum for use by 5G providers, a move that is expected to encourage U.S. manufacturers to develop 5G network technology.

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Orna Wachman (CC0)

The U.S. Department of Defense will turn over some of its 5G frequency spectrum in a bid to help U.S. carriers bring commercial 5G services to market faster.

The DoD controls large portions of the mid-band 5G spectrum in the 3 GHz to 6 GHz range, which is used for military radar. Earlier this year, the White House and DoD formed "America's Mid-Band Initiative Team," or AMBIT, with the goal of making a contiguous, 100 MHz segment of mid-band spectrum available for use in 5G development by the end of the summer.

After 15 weeks of work, AMBIT has declared the 3450-3550MHz band available for commercial use. Spectrum from 3550-3980MHz was already available, so with the extra 100MHz, this creates a contiguous 530MHz band for use by licensed providers.

In its announcement, the government said 5G networks require a mix of low, mid, and high-band spectrum. The low band carries signals over long distances, whereas the high band travels shorter distances but is good for data-intensive tasks. Mid-band spectrum is useful for 5G use cases because it can deliver high capacity and reliability over larger geographic areas.

The sale of spectrum rights could begin in December next year, allowing the wireless industry to offer 5G services on the frequencies as soon as mid-2022, said Michael Kratsios, the U.S. chief technology officer in a statement.

The right to the frequencies will likely be auctioned off, similar to the auction of Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum auction in the 3.55 to 3.65Ghz band. That auction has already raised more than $2 billion.

Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google and now chairman of the Defense Innovation Board, said earlier this year in a New York Times op-ed that making the 5G bandwidth available to U.S. providers would incentivize competitive 5G alternatives to Huawei. 

Looks like someone heard him.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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