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Highlights of Telecom Council TC3 Panel on 5G Telecom Regulation


A spirited discussion of telecom regulation issues took place September 28, 2016 at the Telecom Council’s TC3 summit in Mt. View, CA.  Most of it was related to making 5G a reality. We present key messages from the panelists and critical open issues in this article.

Moderator: John Feland, Founder & CEO of Argus Insights

  • David Witkowski, Executive Director, Wireless Communications Initiative at Joint Venture Silicon Valley (JVSV)
  • Steve Augustino, Partner at Washington DC office of Kelley Drye law firm

FCC and Local Government Regulatory Issues for 5G:

The promise and potential of 5G has been highly touted for a very, very long time.  However, many of the regulatory issues have not been widely discussed – even though they could be obstacles to 5G deployment. In this author’s opinion, these issues are much more important than all the speculation about what 5G might be and how to implement that vision.

Steve Augustino echoed many of the 5G promises claimed by pundits: higher access speeds, lower latency, Internet of Everything, higher quality video broadcasting and/or streaming, etc. He said the three key 5G issues are:

  1. Allocating higher frequencies for licensed spectrum
  2. Infrastructure required
  3. Role of unlicensed spectrum

Chart depicting 5G possibilities.

Above Image courtesy of

David Witkowski said “There’s a widespread perception of 5G happening next year.”

That even though the ITU-R specifications (IMT 2020) aren’t expected to be completed till late 2020 as we’ve noted in many previous posts.

David indicated that the density of deployment, especially the physical placement of small cells, will be an important installation issue for cities and regions that support 5G communications. 5G solutions must be aesthetically pleasing to cities and not be an eyesore (e.g. small cell mounted on a street light or pole).

Witkowski noted that carriers have tried to use FCC edicts to preempt local regulations, but that hasn’t always worked.”The FCC “Shot Clock” [Section 6409(a)1] was cited as an example, as it’s been opposed by many local governments.  This has resulted in delays of small cell deployments as local governments are not moving forward on deployments within 60 days.   “They either don’t know or don’t care,” Steve said.  “There are no changes to the Shot Clock rule under consideration by the FCC,” he added.

Note 1. Section 6409(a) mandates that State and local governments “may not deny, and shall approve” an “eligible facilities request” so long as that eligible facilities request does not “substantially change the physical dimensions of the existing wireless tower or base station.” The FCC Commissioners explained that the Order would define ambiguous statutory terms, impose a 60-day deadline for State and local governments to act on a collocation application, and inflict a “deemed granted” remedy for failures to act before the deadline.  Section 6409(a) is a 60-day shot clock that only applies to collocation or replacement of a wireless facility.  There are other legal criteria to determine if 6409(a) applies.  If not, then there’s either a 90-day or 150-day shot clock.

For more information, please refer to the FCC report & order approved October 17, 2014 Acceleration of Broadband Deployment by Improving Wireless Facilities Siting Policies, et al. (PDF)

Dave and Steve also noted what this author has observed for a long time:  the FCC consistently votes based on their political party affiliation. For example, the FCC voted 3-2 along party lines to approve proposed net neutrality rules with its Republicans members dissenting, beginning a fierce 120 days of public commentary about how to regulate the Internet.

Wireless carrier sharing of 5G mounted infrastructure might happen, but it depends on who deploys the network. [We wonder if municipalities could share 5G base stations with commercial wireless carriers or if competing wireless carriers might partner to share 5G base stations.]

Steve said the FCC commissioners want to standardize some of the physical aspects of 5G or “5G ready” equipment, mainly for energy efficiency.

David said that there would be two sets of FCC spectrum plan for 5G, but didn’t provide specific details. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler spoke to that topic in his CTIA keynote speech:

“There are three keys for what the Commission can do to help unlock the 5G opportunity: 1) ensuring ample availability of spectrum to a range of competitors; 2) taking all steps to foster competitive provision of infrastructure; and 3) removing unnecessary hurdles to siting. In all these areas, the FCC has activities underway. Yet, let’s be realistic, there is more to be done if 5G is to realize its promise.

On spectrum, the FCC has opened the door to the spectrum trifecta. We’ve targeted low-band, mid-band, and high-band airwaves that make available unprecedented amounts of spectrum.

The U.S. was the first country in the world to open up high-band spectrum for 5G networks and applications. And in order to give this industry the opportunity to lead the world in 5G, we did it in record time—only nine months from proposal to final decision.

In all three of these allocations, the Commission sticks to a proven formula: Lead the world in spectrum availability, encourage and protect innovation-driving competition, and stay out of the way of technological development and the details of implementation.

We are also going to keep the pedal down on making more high-band spectrum available for 5G. And while we are busy putting out new spectrum, we will facilitate experimentation and innovation – by soon launching our electronic filing system to accept applications for program experimental licenses.”

David suggested that 5G networks might share frequencies between incumbent government agencies and commercial users (the long sought public-private partnership?). He concluded that there was strong support for unlicensed spectrum and noted that the FCC reserved 7GHz of unlicensed spectrum this past July².

Note 2. Unlicensed spectrum was already available at 57–64 GHz. On July 14, 2016, the FCC added 7 GHz to create a 14 GHz unlicensed band from 57–71 GHz. The band is currently used for short range, outdoor point-to-point systems and for WiFi high definition streaming. The FCC will continue to seek comment on bands above 95 GHz. FCC Chairman Wheeler said:

“I do believe this is one of the, if not the most, important decision this agency will make this year. By becoming the first nation to identify high-band spectrum, the United States is ushering in the 5G era of high capacity, high-speed, low-latency wireless networks. By not getting involved in the technologies that will use the spectrum, we’re turning loose the incredible innovators of this country.”

Wheeler added that 5G connectivity “promises quantum leaps forward in three key areas: speeds resembling fiber that are at least 10 times and maybe 100-times faster than today’s 4G LTE networks; responsiveness less than one-thousandth of a second, which enables real-time communication; and network capacity multiples of what is available today.”

Under the rules, the unlicensed spectrum would operate like the current WiFi bands. Anybody using equipment that complies with the technical rules could operate in that spectrum, subject to an obligation not to interfere with other users.

Closing Comment:
Besides spectrum (needed, sharing, unlicensed) and infrastructure placement, there are many other questions to be answered before 5G networks are in place—including validated use cases, a standard definition of 5G, and detailed specifications. This issue has been the subject of many rebuttal articles/posts by this author to refute wireless network operator claims of deploying 5G before it is defined and standardized by ITU-R.

Please refer to this post by IHS-Markit titled Real” 5G Is Far in Future; Service Providers Struggling to Find Compelling Use Cases  and check the ITU-R “real 5G” references at the end of the article.

Shot Clock References (provided by David Witkowski):

Author Alan Weissberger

By Alan Weissberger

Alan Weissberger is a renowned researcher in the telecommunications field. Having consulted for telcos, equipment manufacturers, semiconductor companies, large end users, venture capitalists and market research firms, we are fortunate to have his critical eye examining new technologies.

One reply on “Highlights of Telecom Council TC3 Panel on 5G Telecom Regulation”

Thanks for the excellent summary, Alan. In the near-term, it sounds like 5G will be more of a marketing term instead of a technical standard; similar to what you pointed out in article many years ago about the early days of 4G/LTE.

I am curious how the milllimeter wave type approaches that seem to include a mesh element, like what Starry is proposing, fits into 5G.

Also, thanks for referencing the Joint Venture Silicon Valley paper. It should be a must-read for municipal officials.

There is good advice recommending that municipalities have a dig-once policy:.

“Local governments should create “Dig Once” policies that encourage conduit installation, and should create “Opportunity Alert Systems” that notify wired and wireless telecommunication companies when permits are issued for underground work that could allow conduit to be installed.”

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