FCC hails 'monumental' vote opening new spectrum for 5G and IoT

The US is the first nation to set aside spectrum for 5G services

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has voted to open nearly 11 gigahertz of high-band spectrum to new wireless uses, hailing it as a "monumental step" that will greatly increase network capacity for 5G and the Internet of Things.

The FCC on Thursday adopted new rules for spectrum above 24 GHz, in a vote that Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler described as one of the most important decisions commissioners will make this year.

"This is a big day for our nation," he said. "This is a big day for our agency."

The commission's vote makes the U.S. the first nation to open up spectrum for the coming 5G services, and the decision may serve as a blueprint for other countries. The spectrum allows for data transfer rates of up to 10 Gbps, but signals can travel only short distances, meaning small cell deployments will be needed to deliver most wireless services.

The spectrum could eventually be used by doctors for remote surgery, by industrial equipment to alert repair teams, and by refrigerators to reorder food, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said. The spectrum will also help drive growth in the IoT and in wireless augmented and virtual reality applications, commissioners said.

The vote is a "monumental step" toward new mobile services in "frequencies we never dreamed possible," Clyburn added.

The FCC's decision opens up 3.85 GHz of licensed spectrum and 7 GHz of unlicensed spectrum to new wireless uses. The new licensed spectrum is in the 28GHz and 37GHz bands, and the new unlicensed band is from 64 to 71 GHz. 

Some of the spectrum is now used by satellite operators, the U.S. Department of Defense, and other agencies. The new rules allow for spectrum sharing between new operators and incumbents, the FCC said.

In addition to opening up the 11 GHz of spectrum, the FCC will seek public comments on making use of another 18 GHz of spectrum in eight additional high-frequency bands.

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