The FCC is opening a new 3.5GHz band with rules to ensure spectrum sharing between different users. The band will be thinly licensed and the initiative is called the “Citizens Broadband Radio Service” - but what sorts of networks can we expect in this band?
FCC claims that ‘the new rules will provide a number of tangible benefits for consumers, businesses, and government users”. From aiding in the critical national defense missions by protecting incumbent radar systems from interference, to making more spectrum available for other wireless broadband uses, to leading to the broad implementation of wireless broadband in the industries like manufacturing, healthcare, energy etc., the 3.5 GHz will help in augmenting the broadband access and performance for the end users and consumers. (source) This undoubtedly is expected to immensely aid in the innovation in our economy, and foster economic growth as a result - which rightly backs the name, ‘Innovation band’.
It is one of the early endeavours of FCC in evolving and upgrading the use of scarce spectrum through spectrum sharing by several different user groups, but an important one nonetheless. To put things in perspective, think of the satellite ground stations and naval radars (the original incumbent band users) who only use the band very sparsely - at specific times and locations - making the band an unused resource that’s reserved solely for this purpose. With the ‘Innovation band’, however, the FCC will open up the band to more users.
It will be ‘governed by a three-tiered spectrum authorization framework’ - Incumbent Access, Priority Access, and General Authorized Access. While the incumbents (Tier 1), as laid out above, will be shielded for their use of the band by ‘exclusion zones’ around their pre-identified locations, but the band will be auctioned off to users (Tier 2), in the order of precedence and priority, everywhere else. These users will be allotted ‘10 MHz bands per census tract’ (meaning, areas the size of a small town), for 3 Yr periods.
Besides these users, there are also the registered users (Tier 3) who’ll be able to ‘transmit in areas that are not allocated or occupied’. This allows the FCC to accommodate a wide range of uses of the band - from the commercial uses on a shared arrangement, to the protected use for the incumbent ‘federal and non-federal users’ of the band.
Overall, this is a commendable effort by FCC because the spectrum, overall, has become a scarce resource, and any attempt and endeavour to make the best use of this resource is laudable.