FCC Moves To Open New 5G Wireless Bands Enabling Dramatically Faster Mobile Connectivity

Today's wireless networks can handle applications like Snapchat, but what about the emergence of virtual reality? FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said his eyes were opened to the need for significantly faster wireless signals when he donned a pair of VR goggles in Washington, DC, and controlled an excavator to dig up dirt 1,400 miles away in Texas.

"Granted, remotely digging dirt in Dallas probably isn't high on the list of transformational advancements that will define the 21st century. But what if you replace the heavy machinery with a scalpel so a world-class surgeon can move from hospital to hospital without leaving her own surgery suite? Or how about students sitting in a classroom taking a virtual tour inside the human body?," Wheeler stated in a proposal to open up airwaves for 5G connectivity.

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To make those sort of things possible, Wheeler says next generation wireless speeds have to be 10 to 100 times faster than what they are now. Better responsiveness is also required—latency needs to be reduced to less than 1ms for real-time interactions. And in order to deliver faster, more responsive wireless service, large swaths of spectrum have to be opened up.

"To seize the opportunities before us, we need the next generation of wireless connectivity – a fifth generation, or 5G. And if the United States is going to continue to be a world leader in wireless, we need to speed the deployment of 5G, here, on our shores," Wheeler added.

Wheeler went on to list other reasons why making 5G connectivity should be a priority, such as the various high-tech services being moved to the cloud, including autonomous vehicles, smart city energy grids, transportation networks, water systems, immersive education, and so forth.

To prepare for this future, Wheeler's proposing new rules that identify and open up large chunks of spectrum for 5G applications. The proposal is called the Spectrum Frontiers proceeding and it will go up for vote on July 14th.

"If the Commission approves my proposal next month, the United States will be the first country in the world to open up high-band spectrum for 5G networks and applications. And that’s damn important because it means U.S. companies will be first out of the gate," Wheeler said.

The proposal includes not just licensed spectrum, but also 14GHz of unlicensed band. That's a significant amount of airwaves that Wheeler envisions becoming a "breeding ground for innovation."