Skip to main content

What's New in 5G - May 2020

The next-generation of wireless technologies – known as 5G – is here. Not only is it expected to offer network speeds that are up to 100 times faster than 4G LTE and reduce latency to nearly zero, it will allow networks to handle 100 times the number of connected devices, revolutionizing business and consumer connectivity and enabling the “Internet of Things.” Leading policymakers – federal regulators and legislators – are making it a top priority to ensure that the wireless industry has the tools it needs to maintain U.S. leadership in commercial 5G deployments. This blog provides monthly updates on FCC actions and Congressional efforts to win the race to 5G.

Regulatory Actions and Initiatives

COVID-19 Relief

  • Providers are urged to extend their services and coverage as the Nation continues to battle the coronavirus outbreak.
    • On April 30, 2020, Chairman Pai encouraged broadband and telephone providers to extend their Keep Americans Connected Pledge through June 30, 2020. The more than 700 broadband and telephone providers that signed on to the initial pledge committed for 60 days to: (i) not interrupt service to any residential or small business customers because of an inability to pay their bills due to the coronavirus pandemic; (ii) waive any late fees incurred by any residential or small business customers because of their economic circumstances related to the coronavirus pandemic; and (iii) make Wi-Fi hotspots available to any American who needs them. Providers in small markets and rural areas that need to opt-out of the extension for financial reasons should contact [email protected] by May 12, 2020.
       
  • The FCC granted TerreStar Corporation a waiver to deploy Wireless Medical Telemetry Service, used for remote patient health monitoring, in the 1.4 GHz band to help combat COVID-19. 
    • On April 30, 2020, the FCC released an Order granting TerreStar Corporation (“TerreStar”) a limited, conditional waiver to allow it additional time (until July 30, 2023) to deploy its proposed Wireless Medical Telemetry Service (“WMTS”) using 1.4 GHz band spectrum. TerreStar was planning on deploying a WiMAX network, but, due to the potential for interference from a WiMAX network to WMTS operations in adjacent bands, altered its plans to instead provide WMTS services. The FCC determined that grant of the waiver is in the public interest because it will address the interference concerns and help meet the growing need for WMTS spectrum to help combat the COVID-19 outbreak.
       
  • Continuing to assist wireless service providers with easing the strain on their networks during the COVID-19 pandemic, the FCC granted the Navajo Nation’s request for emergency access to 2.5 GHz spectrum.
    • On April 17, 2020, the FCC announced that it granted an emergency request for special temporary authority (“STA”) to use unassigned spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band for wireless broadband service during the COVID-19 pandemic filed by the Navajo Nation, which is located within parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. In the wake of the surge in requests for STA during the pandemic, the FCC also released a Public Notice with instructions on how parties can file their applications for STA (and other filings) electronically in the FCC’s database beginning on April 29, 2020. This process will become mandatory for filers on July 28, 2020. 

Mid-Band Spectrum

L-Band

  • Bringing to close a proceeding that has been open for over a decade, the FCC has approved an application to allow commercial 5G services, primarily for Internet of Things Services, in satellite spectrum adjacent to GPS operations.
    • On April 22, 2020, the FCC released an Order granting applications submitted by Ligado Networks LLC (“Ligado”) to modify its existing authorizations to provide satellite services in the 1526-1536 MHz, 1627.5-1637.5 MHz, and 1646.5-1656.5 MHz bands so that it may deploy a mobile broadband network using that spectrum. While Ligado has been seeking this authority (and modifying its requests) since the early 2000s, the FCC had not approved its applications until now largely because of concerns of interference to GPS. The FCC determined that grant of the applications would serve the goal of bringing advanced communications services to the public and that potential interference to GPS devices was either overstated or could be mitigated. 

3.5 GHz Band

  • Demonstrating interest from a variety of parties in the FCC’s next auction of mid-band spectrum for 5G services, the FCC has requested input on allowing both Comcast and Midcontinent Communications to participate separately.
    • On April 27, 2020, the FCC released a Public Notice seeking comment on requests for waiver filed by Comcast and Midcontinent Communications (“Midco”) so that they can file separate applications to participate in the auction for 3.5 GHz band licenses (“Auction 105”). A waiver is necessary because Comcast has a general partnership interest in Midco, and the FCC’s rules prohibit commonly controlled entities from participating separately in an auction. Comments on the waiver request were due May 4, 2020, and applications to participate in Auction 105 are due May 7, 2020.
       
  • The FCC announced that it has certified additional Spectrum Access System (“SAS”) administrators to allow for commercial operations in the 3.5 GHz band.
    • On April 21, 2020, the FCC released a Public Notice certifying Amdocs, Inc. as a SAS administrator in the 3.5 GHz band and approving it for commercial operation, subject to the conditions listed in the Public Notice. In addition, on the same day, the FCC released a Public Notice certifying Federated Wireless, Inc. to operate as a SAS administrator in the 3650-3700 MHz portion of the 3.5 GHz band in American Samoa for a five-year term. Its request to serve the remainder of the 3.5 GHz band – 3550-3650 MHz – in American Samoa remains pending. 

3.45-365 GHz Band

  • The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (“NTIA”) has released data as part of its technical study on the feasibility of sharing federal spectrum with future commercial operations in the 3450-3550 MHz band and the 3.5 GHz band
    • On April 23, 2020, NTIA issued a report on occupancy levels, measured over two years, in the 3.45-3.55 GHz and 3.55-3.65 GHz bands in four locations. While NTIA released a report in January suggesting that sharing is possible in the 3.45-3.55 GHz band, this report provides no meaningful conclusions. 

C-Band

  • Estimated reimbursable costs for satellite operators transitioning out of mid-band spectrum to make it available for 5G services has been released.
    • On April 27, 2020, the FCC released a Public Notice seeking comment on a Preliminary Cost Category Schedule, which establishes a schedule of the types and amounts of reimbursable expenses that incumbent satellite operators in the C-band may incur as they transition out of the band so that it may be made available for commercial services later this year. Comments are due May 12, 2020, which is the same day incumbent satellite operators must decide whether they will elect to relocate from the band on an accelerated timeframe in exchange for an accelerated relocation payment.  

6 GHz Band

  • The FCC has made available additional mid-band spectrum for unlicensed operations such Wi-Fi.
    • On April 24, 2020, the FCC released an Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that makes available the full 1,200 megahertz of spectrum in the 5.925-7.125 GHz (“6 GHz”) band for unlicensed use. Low-power operations would be permitted indoors throughout the band and higher power operations would be permitted both indoors and outdoors in certain portions of the spectrum – all of which would be under the control of an Automated Frequency Control (“AFC”) system. The FCC also requests input on the potential for unlicensed devices to operate both indoors and outdoors across the entire 6 GHz band at very low power and allowing indoor unlicensed devices to operate at higher power levels than those adopted without AFC. Comments and replies are due 30 and 60 days, respectively, of Federal Register publication.

Millimeter Wave

  • The FCC announced that certain applications for licenses of millimeter wave band spectrum have been accepted for filing, paving the way for carriers to begin using this spectrum for 5G services.
    • On April 30, 2020, the FCC released a Public Notice announcing that long-form applications of certain entities, including AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon, for licenses in the Upper 37 GHz, 39 GHz, and 47 GHz bands, the auction for which concluded in March, have been initially accepted for filing. The FCC notes that it may, upon further examination, return or dismiss the applications if they are found to be defective and that it is continuing to review the long-form applications of other winning bidders in the auction.

T-Mobile/DISH

  • The FCC announced its approval of T-Mobile-DISH’s mobile virtual network operator (“MVNO”) Agreement, facilitating DISH’s plans to build a 5G network.
    • On April 16, 2020, the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau and Office of Economics and Analytics released a letter announcing their approval of T-Mobile’s and DISH’s MVNO agreement, which was an integral component in the FCC’s approval of the T-Mobile/Sprint transaction. They found that the MVNO agreement promotes competition in four areas: (i) Wholesale Network Pricing; (ii) Discrimination and Competitive Constraints; (iii) Long-Term Competition and Facilities Deployment; and (iv) a Stable Transition of New Boost’s Operations. Under the agreement, New T-Mobile and New Boost will continue to be competitors in the wireless market and New Boost will receive terms that are at least as favorable as those given to the Metro brand, or any successor brand. Additionally, DISH will use the MVNO agreement to build and deploy a nationwide 5G network within seven years. Finally, the agreement will guarantee that New Boost and its customers are not adversely affected by Sprint and New T-Mobile network integration. 

Federal Spectrum Management

  • NTIA released a report with recommendations on legislative reforms to encourage the use of federal spectrum for unlicensed operations.
    • On March 30, 2020, NTIA released a post with an Appendix that NTIA was required to create pursuant to Section 618 of RAY BAUM’S Act. That Section required the FCC to develop a national plan for making additional spectrum available for unlicensed uses and that the FCC include, as an appendix to the plan, recommendations from NTIA on how to reform the Spectrum Relocation Fund, which is used to fund federal entities’ relocation and sharing costs for vacating or sharing spectrum. The report includes four potential options that NTIA recommends Congress consider to facilitate reimbursement of federal agencies for costs associated with researching, planning for, and enabling access to frequencies by unlicensed wireless devices or other technologies operating on a licensed-by-rule basis.

Universal Service Funding

  • The FCC has proposed establishing a fund that would make available up to $9 billion in federal support to deploy 5G services in rural areas.
    • On April 23, 2020, the FCC adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking comment on establishing the 5G Fund, which would make funding for 5G services in rural areas available in two phases. Under Phase I, funding would be made available through an auction that would occur either in 2021 using current mobile broadband coverage data or sometime in 2023 (or later) after the FCC collects improved mobile broadband coverage data. Phase II would target support to harder to serve and higher cost areas, such as farms and ranches, and make at least $1 billion of the $9 billion available for precision agriculture. Comments and replies are due 30 and 60 days, respectively, after Federal Register publication. On April 9, 2020, the FCC announced that it released a staff report analyzing the areas potentially eligible for support in Phase I if the FCC proceeds with an auction in 2021.
       
  • The FCC extended the deadline for determining whether to finalize the designations of Chinese equipment and technology manufacturers, prohibiting the use of Universal Fund Support (“USF”) to procure equipment or services produced or provided by these companies.
    • On May 1, 2020, the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau extended the timeframe for determining whether to issue final designations of Huawei Technologies Company (“Huawei”) and ZTE Corporation (“ZTE”) from May 4, 2020 to June 30, 2020.  The final designations would have the effect of prohibiting USF support to procure or otherwise support equipment or services produced or provided by Huawei or ZTE. The Bureau decided to extend the deadline for several reasons. First, since the initial designations, the Secure and Trusted Communications Network Act, which directs the FCC to develop a list of equipment and services for which USF funds may not be used, was signed into lawSecond, Huawei and ZTE filed comments in response to the initial designation orders, and an extension of time will enable the Bureau to also fully and adequately review those comments.

Legislative Efforts

  • A bill was introduced in the House that would establish the Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee within NTIA.
    • On April 23, 2020, Representative Griffith introduced the Commerce Spectrum Coordination Act of 2020. If enacted, the bill would require the newly established Commerce Spectrum Advisory Committee to advise and make recommendations with respect to: (i) developing and maintaining spectrum management policies that allow the U.S. to strengthen its global leadership in the introduction of communications technologies and services, (ii) advancing spectrum-based innovation, (iii) fostering increased spectrum sharing and more efficient and innovative uses of spectrum resources, (iv) identifying international opportunities to further U.S. economic interests through spectrum management, and (v) developing balanced policies that promote both licensed and unlicensed access to spectrum. 
       
  • A bill was introduced in the House that would provide $2 billion in E-Rate support for schools and libraries to purchase telecommunications equipment during COVID-19.
    • On April 21, 2020, Representative Meng introduced the Emergency Educational Connections Act of 2020. The bill would require the FCC to promulgate rules to allow schools and libraries to purchase Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, and connected devices to assist students, staff, or patrons who do not have access to such equipment or advanced telecommunications services at home.
       
  • A bill was introduced in the House that would expand the FCC’s Rural Health Care Program in response to COVID-19.
    • On April 10, 2020, Representative Eshoo introduced the Healthcare Broadband Expansion During COVID-19 Act. If enacted, the bill would provide $2 billion to expand public and non-profit health facilities’ telehealth and broadband connectivity capabilities. Specifically, the bill would expand the FCC’s Healthcare Connect Fund Program, which subsidizes the cost of broadband for eligible public and nonprofit rural healthcare facilities, to include healthcare facilities in rural, urban, and suburban areas, and it would increase the subsidy rate to 85 percent.
       
  • A bill was introduced in the House that would require the FCC and NTIA to update their spectrum coordination memorandum of understanding.
    • On April 10, 2020, Representative Bilirakis introduced the Spectrum Coordination Act. The bill would require the FCC and NTIA to update their spectrum coordination memorandum of understanding by December 31, 2021 to improve the process for resolving frequency allocation disputes and to ensure that spectrum is used or shared in the most efficient manner.
       
  • A bill was introduced in the House that would amend the Communications Act to not require an environmental review as a condition for placing and installing certain communications facilities.
    • On April 10, 2020, Representative Shimkus introduced the Streamlining Permitting to Enable Efficient Deployment of Broadband Infrastructure Act of 2020. If enacted, the bill would not require the Commission to perform, or require any entity regulated by the Commission to perform, any review under the National Environmental and Policy Act as a condition of permitting the placement and installation of a communications facility if the facility: (i) will be located within a public right-of-way and is not more than 50 feet tall or 10 feet higher than any existing structure, (ii) is a replacement for an existing communications facility and is the same or substantially similar to the facility it is replacing, (iii) meets the size limitation of a small antenna; or (iv) the placement and installation involve the expansion of the site of an existing facility not more than 30 feet in any direction.

 

Subscribe To Viewpoints

Authors

Russell H. Fox is a wireless communications attorney at Mintz. He guides clients through federal legislative, regulatory, and transactional matters. Russell also participates in FCC proceedings, negotiates spectrum agreements, and represents clients in spectrum auctions.

Angela Y. Kung

Of Counsel

Angela Y. Kung, Of Counsel at Mintz, draws on significant knowledge of the wireless regulatory landscape and experience at the FCC to advise clients on FCC rules and procedures. With particular expertise on spectrum use policies and auction procedures, she has shepherded Mintz's clients through several FCC auctions related to next-generation 5G wireless technologies and routinely advocates on behalf of clients to help ensure that the agency’s rules align with their interests.
Christen B'anca Glenn is a Mintz attorney who advises communications and technology clients on regulatory and compliance matters before the FCC. She also has trial and appellate litigation experience, including drafting pleadings, motions, and briefs.