Unlicensed Spectrum in the 5 GHz Band

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce held a hearing on Wednesday, November 13 titled “Challenges and Opportunities in the 5 GHz Spectrum Band.” Section 6406 of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, also known as the Spectrum Act, directed the FCC to determine whether spectrum in the 5 GHz is suitable for unlicensed use. The committee invited panel of experts to testify on the matter. Witnesses included Bob Friday, Vice President and Chief Technology Officer for Cisco; Julius Knapp, Chief of the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology; John Kenney, Principal Research Manager at the Toyota Info Technology Center; and Tom Nagel, Senior Vice President of Business Development at Comcast.

Those who are wary of unlicensed spectrum in the 5GHz band claim that due to interference, concerns, the U-NII bands have a variety of regulations placed on them. The differences in these regulations could have an impact on Wi-Fi in the 5 GHz band. Additionally, incumbents who already hold licenses in the 5 GHz band could potentially suffer from interference caused by unlicensed spectrum.

The 5 GHz band has little value at auction due to its unfavorable propagation characteristics; from a technical standpoint, it’s pretty much useless as licensed spectrum. Carriers aren’t likely to bid very much for something that doesn’t work for their purposes. Auctioning this band would squander a valuable resource owned by taxpayers.

However, the 5 GHz band is perfect for Wi-Fi, which is supported by unlicensed spectrum. By opening portions of the band for unlicensed use, taxpayers would have access to gigabit Wi-Fi: Wi-Fi so fast that virtually no application would use it at full capacity yet. That opens up the possibility of the brightest future for mobile innovation the world has ever known. The benefits aren’t limited to the future; opening up more unlicensed spectrum would relieve congestion in the 2.4 GHz band and give consumers faster speeds instantly.

Mobile broadband use is increasing at an astonishing rate and with it is an ever-growing demand for spectrum. Congress should take the necessary measures to maximize the spectrum band in order to give consumers the full benefit of this precious and scarce resource.