The next-generation of wireless technologies – known as 5G – is expected to revolutionize business and consumer connectivity, offering network speeds that are up to 100 times faster than 4G LTE, reducing latency to nearly zero, and allowing networks to handle 100 times the number of connected devices, 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
- The FCC grants relief to a 600 MHz licensee serving Tribal Nations, giving it more time to complete and deploy its wireless network.
- On January 4, 2023, the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau (“WTB”) released an Order granting a third request by Pine Cellular Phones, Inc. (“Pine Cellular”) to extend its construction deadline for one of its 600 MHz licenses by one year from January 9, 2023 to January 9, 2024. In 2019, Pine Cellular was a winning bidder in the Broadcast Incentive Auction (Auction No. 1002) of two 600 MHz licenses. After the licenses were awarded, the FCC prohibited the use of funding from the Universal Service Fund for equipment and services deemed to pose a national security risk. Pine Cellular planned to rely on that now-prohibited equipment to meet its construction requirement, but it has since been unable to acquire and install compliant equipment due, in part, to global supply chain issues. The WTB granted Pine Cellular’s request because it recognized that the only way for Pine Cellular to fulfill its construction requirement is to remove and replace all prohibited equipment in its network and that termination of the license would not facilitate the provision of wireless broadband service, particularly to the Choctaw Nation, which is covered by Pine Cellular’s license.
- The FCC grants additional licenses for spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band for commercial wireless services.
- The WTB released a Public Notice on January 5, 2023, announcing the grant of four additional licenses for spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band, the auction for which concluded on August 29, 2022. A list of the licenses, sorted by licensee, is available here. And list of the same licenses, sorted by market, is available here.
- The FCC takes further action to enable commercial operations through spectrum sharing in the 3.5 GHz band.
- On January 10, 2023, the WTB and Office of Engineering and Technology (“OET”) released a Public Notice approving the new Environmental Sensing Capability (“ESC”) sensor deployment and coverage plans of Federated Wireless in the 3.5 GHz band. Federated Wireless is now authorized to operate its ESC sensors to protect federal incumbents in Alaska and must, among other things, operate in conjunction with at least one Spectrum Access System (“SAS”), which manages non-federal access to the 3.5 GHz band, that has been approved for commercial deployment.
- In addition, the WTB and OET released a Public Notice on January 12, 2023, certifying that the SAS operated by RED Technologies SAS (“RED”) has satisfied the FCC’s testing requirements and been approved to begin its initial commercial deployment (“ICD”), subject to certain conditions. After RED operates its ICD, it is required to submit a report, and assuming that the report is satisfactory, RED will then receive authorization to operate for a five-year term.
- The FCC revises its framework for making public safety spectrum in the 4.9 GHz band available for commercial wireless services.
- On January 18, 2023, the FCC released an Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking establishing rules that provide for a nationwide Band Manager for public safety operations in the 4940-4990 MHz (“4.9 GHz”) band. The Order replaces the previous framework for the 4.9 GHz band, which allowed states to lease the spectrum to third parties, including commercial entities, through a designated statewide lessor. The new framework will allow the Band Manager to coordinate all use of the spectrum nationwide, including by making it available for secondary, non-public safety use – such as commercial 5G wireless services – by allowing non-public safety entities to lease unused 4.9 GHz band spectrum. The Further Notice seeks comment on implementing the new leasing framework and selecting the Band Manager. Comments and reply comments on the Further Notice will be due 30 days and 60 days, respectively, after publication in the Federal Register.
Other Agency Actions
- The Federal Aviation Administration proposes requirements to help foster coexistence between 5G operations in the C-band and aircraft relying on radio altimeters.
- On January 22, 2023, a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) was published in the Federal Register. The Notice proposes to update the FAA’s existing Airworthiness Directive (“AD”) regarding the coexistence of licensees of spectrum in the 3.7-4.2 GHz band (“C-band”) and radio altimeters. Specifically, the FAA proposes interference tolerance requirements for radio altimeters and requirements that all aircraft operating under its rules meet power spectral density requirements to operate in the contiguous U.S. after February 2, 2024. The FAA has determined that radio altimeter tolerant airplanes will not experience unsafe conditions at any airport identified by the FAA as a 5G market. It has also determined that any 5G C-band provider that maintains the mitigated actions, which are based on the power levels to which Verizon and AT&T previously agreed, will not have an effect on the safety of transport and commuter airplanes with radio altimeters that meet the interference tolerance requirements. The FAA will assess changes in the agreed-upon power levels. Comments on the FAA’s proposals are due February 10, 2023.
- The Department of Defense seeks comment on developing a spectrum roadmap.
- On January 4, 2023, the Department of Defense (“DoD”) released a Request for Information seeking input to support the development of a Next-Generation Electromagnetic Spectrum Strategic Roadmap, which Congress requested of DoD in a June 2022 letter. Among other things, DoD requests input on its ability to use commercial systems for its operations and spectrum sharing. The deadline for providing input is February 10, 2023 at 2:00 pm ET.
5G Networks and Equipment
- The FCC reminds rip-and-replace funding recipients of their reporting obligations.
- On January 11, 2023, the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau released a Public Notice reminding parties that receive funding from the FCC’s Reimbursement Program to remove and replace equipment that poses a national security risk of their obligation to file their Reimbursement Program spending reports. The spending reports, which, among other things, must include a detailed accounting of the covered equipment and services that have been removed and replaced, are due by February 10, 2023.