By Drew FitzGerald
The Trump Administration outlined a plan Monday to commercialize a swath of military radio frequencies for use in next-generation 5G networks, yielding to cellphone carriers that have sought the spectrum for their own use.
The White House plan would arrange for the Federal Communications Commission to auction 100 megahertz of prized mid-band spectrum starting in December 2021, allowing telecom companies such as AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications to bid on licenses for them. The industry has long sought the rights for more mid-band spectrum, which is considered ideal for new fifth-generation wireless signals because of its extensive bandwidth and reach.
"Under this administration's approach, the American private sector will continue to build the next 5G networks," White House technology adviser Michael Kratsios said during a telephone briefing with reporters.
The framework, if adopted, would strike a rare compromise among the Pentagon, FCC and other U.S. agencies that have sometimes squabbled over federal 5G policies. Department of Defense officials have been leery of past efforts to commercialize their reserved spectrum. The mid-band spectrum at issue is used for naval radar systems, missile control and air traffic, among other uses.
Recent technological advances have made it possible for telecom companies to send data over frequencies reserved for the military when it is not otherwise in use. A senior administration official said an ongoing auction of nearby spectrum called the Citizens Broadband Radio Service showed that the frequencies, which are widely used outside the U.S., are in strong demand.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai commended the decision in a statement as "a key milestone in securing United States leadership in 5G."
"The FCC looks forward to moving quickly to adopt service rules for the 3.45 GHz band and then hold an auction to bring this prime mid-band spectrum to market," he said, referring to the spectrum band.