Without broadband, there is no app economy. However, the United States has a big problem: broadband is in short supply in many areas throughout the country. A conservative estimate cites that 23 million Americans do not have broadband. Rural areas, of course, are carrying the brunt of the broadband shortage. Given that many app developers live and operate in rural areas, expediting 5G deployment is essential to their growth. In the advent of 5G, developers will leverage those wireless networks to provide consumers internet of things (IoT) services, like precision agriculture and connected health.
However, there is a sticky wicket preventing us from getting to the 5G promised land: government agencies are under little or no pressure to relinquish spectrum holdings, regardless of whether they use them. In fact, federal agencies are understandably reluctant to part with spectrum resources, especially when their value increases. This reality has led to the current 24 GHz kerfuffle occurring between the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) National Weather Service.
The dispute revolves around whether the FCC acted appropriately when auctioning off various parts of the 24 GHz band—a swath of spectrum important for 5G—to further its 5G FAST Plan. Spectrum, for the uninitiated, mainly refers to microwave and radio waves that help transmit data over wireless antennae and it is a critical resource for 5G.
So, if the FCC has already auctioned the spectrum, what’s the problem? First, NOAA claims it did not receive advance notice of the FCC’s auction; and second, NOAA has concerns about interference between 5G services and NOAA weather sensors.
NOAA’s opposition to the auction is problematic for a few reasons. First, FCC started planning to auction off 24 GHz spectrum in 2017, and there was a long running process beforehand to account for any legitimate interests of federal spectrum users like NOAA. Secondly, the study NOAA conducted to show that 5G could interfere with weather data was done using a weather data sensor—the Conical scanning Microwave Imager/Sounder—that NOAA has never used. That sensor is much more susceptible to interference than the sensors NOAA does use, so the study inaccurately predicts potential interference. Third, in the new band arrangement, the FCC has put the same interference protections in place to safeguard NOAA weather operations that currently exist for NOAA’s actual sensors. Finally, the FCC’s auction for the 24 GHz band is over and reversing it would be next to impossible; not to mention prohibitively expensive for American taxpayers.
So, what’s really going on?
This 24 GHz band has enormous potential for 5G, and it will further the benefits of 5G. 24 GHz will be particularly helpfulto enhance apps that require spectrum capable of transmitting large amounts of data in an instant (e.g., virtual reality, 3-D video, and streaming applications), especially in places where large swaths of spectrum in traditional bands are unavailable.
The outcome of this debate will decide whether new market innovators can even survive.Without the full cooperation of the U.S. government, network development will suffer, which would cede ground to foreign rivals and impede the ability for mobile developers and connected device companies to produce to their innovative products and services in the IoT ecosystem.
Instead of NOAA lobbing late interference concerns based on a flawed study, it should be working with the FCC to ensure that 5G deployments are promoted and that government incumbent users are appropriately shielded from harmful interference.