FCC Launches 3.5 GHz Spectrum for Approved Companies

The Federal Communications Commission has announced its certification of four companies as Spectrum Access System (SAS) Administrators. The designated companies will work with the FCC to create and implement commercial operations in the 3.5GHz wireless spectrum band. The certified Administrators are CommScope, Federated Wireless, Google, and Sony. In 2019, the FCC approved of these Administrators for initial commercial use; now they will be allowed to have full commercial use.

The use of the electromagnetic spectrum is critical to the operation of many wireless technologies, from radio to cellular networks. Spectrum usage is thus tightly regulated by the FCC to prevent interference between different devices. The 3.5GHz band is a mid-band frequency range expected to be used for 5G wireless networks. After an initial period where only SAS Administrators may use the band, the FCC will consider whether to open the band for general use by companies. 

“The FCC has made it a priority to free up mid-band spectrum for advanced wireless services like 5G,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said. “And today, I’m pleased to announce the latest step to achieve that priority: the approval of four systems that will enable the 3.5 GHz band to be put to use for the benefit of American consumers and businesses. As with all of our efforts to execute on the 5G FAST plan, we’re pushing to get next-generation wireless services deployed in the 3.5 GHz band as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

The Administrators can use a portion of the 3.5GHz band for commercial use. Mid-band spectrum is considered a building block for 5G because it can travel long distances while retaining a high traffic capacity, mitigating the limitations of other portions of the wireless spectrum previously reserved for 5G. This could also increase speeds for current-generation networks.

The FCC initially approved opening up a piece of the 3.5GHz spectrum in 2015, but it was delayed multiple times. The United States Navy uses a portion of the spectrum for its radar technology; it did not use the entire spectrum at all times.

The 3.5GHz spectrum is available in other countries as 5G technologies are deployed worldwide, including in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. This is the latest stage in what is described as a technological arms race to 5G network capabilities between the United States and China. The race has often manifested in the form of tensions between the United States and Chinese 5G equipment manufacturers Huawei and ZTE.