U.S. 5G Spectrum Distribution Controversy: A Long Battle Across Multiple Sectors

The Wall Street Journal recently published a long report that the U.S. government has lost its way in the race to dominate 5G technology, including partisan fights and disputed spectrum planning. This spring, U.S. President Donald Trump declared at the White House in front of a group of hard-hatted telecommunications maintainers that deploying an ultra-fast 5G wireless network is a national priority. “The government is focused on releasing the wireless spectrum needed by as many industries as possible. Trump said. Wireless spectrum, an important public resource, is the key to achieving 5G networks and their great vision.

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But behind this, the differences and focus are almost identical. As the U.S. scrambles to deploy next-generation wireless technology, several government departments are divided over how to distribute 5G wireless spectrum.

U.S. 5G Spectrum Distribution Controversy: A Long Battle Across Multiple Sectors

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which sets spectrum licensing policies, has had an open conflict with the Commerce Department, which uses frequencies for weather satellites, which are critical to hurricane prediction. The transport, energy and education sectors also oppose plans to open up radio waves to build faster networks. During the controversy, a senior Trump appointee who mediated the spectrum dispute abruptly resigned this spring.

The resulting delay in spectrum distribution is no small matter, and could undermine U.S. efforts to dominate the development of wireless technology. 5G is expected to be 100 times faster than today’s 4G networks. Countries that are leading the way in 5G will pave the way for domestic companies to acquire more powerful wireless technology faster than their foreign competitors. This means that leading countries will get more profits and jobs.

U.S. officials say the U.S. has the ability to get these firsts. But the delay in spectrum allocation is part of what many believe china is leading in the 5G race. In China, national governments can act more unitedly. China has allocated a wide range of spectrum slots to 5G development, prompting U.S. officials to warn the federal government of the need for faster action.

“We need the federal government to reduce its spectrum holdings,” FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said. It’s a big thing, and it’s a big problem. “

Michael O’Rielly, who has worked for years to free up the wireless spectrum, said: “Everything I do takes twice as long as I expected. “

Focus on the voters

The Trump administration also has significant political motivations to resolve spectrum disputes. Mr. Trump was shown two maps of the United States early this spring, according to a person familiar with the matter. One shows areas that voted for Trump in the 2016 election, while the other shows areas where broadband services are under-coverage. ‘The two maps look very similar, ‘ the person said.

The conclusion is simple: Improving access to the Internet for voters in rural areas could give Mr. Trump a winning base in 2020. If 5G keeps its promise, engineers say, it will not only support a new generation of apps, but will also make home broadband more accessible and cheaper in areas where Internet access is unstable, slow and expensive, a goal supported by both major parties.

But so far, according to people familiar with the internal debate, this has not been enough to keep everyone in the government in line with the details of spectrum distribution, nor has it been enough to prompt the government to quickly resolve distribution issues that do not involve such differences.

Multiple conflicts

The wireless spectrum is divided into sections or bands, each for different purposes, some of which wireless carriers wish to use. One of the battlegrounds is a spectrum known as the C-band. Wireless carriers are calling on the FCC to make the spectrum available for 5G, but the FCC needs to coordinate with satellite companies that use the spectrum to provide television broadcasting services.

The FCC has been reviewing the issue for more than two years, including some competing proposals. Satellite companies say the fastest solution would be for them to auction off the spectrum they now use and to be overseen by regulators, which would allow 5G operators to use the C-band quickly. In return for the auction, the satellite company is demanding a slice of the billions of dollars in revenue expected from the auction, though it is unclear how the proceeds will be distributed.

The Republican-led Senate Appropriations Committee approved a different plan that senators say will raise more money for the government. They called for a public auction by the FCC, rather than relying on satellite companies as intermediaries. Many Democrats also favor a public auction, while some Republican lawmakers say the decision should be left to the FCC.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said he hopes to resolve the C-band dispute this fall. But this is just one of many controversies he has been involved in over the different frequency bands of the wireless spectrum.

Boost speed

On May 14th Ajit Pai announced further initiatives to boost the 5G network. He says it’s time to consider allowing Wi-Fi routers to run in a wider range of radio waves to speed up them. He singled out a section of wireless spectrum near the 5.9GHz band.

Faster Wi-Fi is a priority for the FCC because many future applications that rely on 5G network speeds may also rely on the speed of Wi-Fi routers, for example, running in a smart home with networked devices.

But Ajit Pai’s comments caused a stir at the Ministry of Transport. Currently, the 5.9GHz spectrum is dedicated to inter-vehicle communication (V2V) technology designed to avoid traffic accidents. Auto industry advocates say the technology will be used in driverless vehicles, but could be available as soon as 2022. Ford and other automakers say sharing the band with Wi-Fi could interfere with those plans.

People familiar with the matter said he had a telephone conversation with Elaine Chao, the transport minister, the day after Ajit Pai’s speech. Cabinet ministers asked Ajit Pai to delay a review of the Wi-Fi spectrum, and he agreed. A Department for Transport spokesman said: “The Department of Transport is firmly committed to promoting public safety and believes that it is too early to make any decision on spectrum allocation until more testing is completed.” “

Six months later, discussions are still under way, and Ajit Pai’s proposal has yet to materialise. Experts say the longer these and other spectrum disputes continue, the harder it will be to compete with China on 5G.

In addition, the Departments of Energy and the Department of Education are also opposed to the opening of the frequency band for public utilities and schools.

The Department of Energy has asked the FCC to reconsider its proposal to open the 6GHz band, which utility companies are currently using. The Wi-Fi industry wants to use this band as well as the adjacent 5.9GHz band. A senior Department of Energy official sent a letter to the FCC in September asking the commission to look elsewhere for bands or allocate some spectrum specifically for utilities, saying that the technology that could be used to share the spectrum was “neither field tested nor validated.”

In July, the FCC voted to revise its spectrum policy on the 2.5GHz band, which has been used by educational institutions in the past. The Department of Education sent a letter to the FCC opposing the move, calling for a continued review of its impact, warning that “this will not meet the needs of students.”

U.S. 5G Spectrum Distribution Controversy: A Long Battle Across Multiple Sectors

Picture: Spectrum Controversy.

Mediator resigns

The U.S. has long set up an agency called the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) that is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

But when Ajit Pai spoke to Transport Minister Elaine Chao, NTIA was not online. At the time, the agency’s director, David Redl, had just resigned.

David Redl is at the heart of another dispute over the 5G-related wireless band (the high-frequency millimeter wave band). Different parts of the spectrum are suitable for different uses, and millimeter waves are ideal for high-capacity, ultra-fast wireless services in cities. The FCC has been auctioning off the spectrum, and wireless carriers have spent billions of dollars to use it in 5G networks.

Two agencies have raised concerns: the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA. Their scientists use satellites to receive high-frequency signals to help predict the weather, and they worry that interference from 5G networks will make predictions less accurate. The two agencies want to impose significant restrictions on 5G operators in this band.

Ajit Pai cites FCC experts as saying that these concerns are unfounded and that the restrictions that Commerce Department scientists expect will make the spectrum useless for 5G.

Tensions flared earlier this year when U.S. officials discussed coordinating the use of the global spectrum with other countries. According to people familiar with the matter, Commerce Department officials told other representatives that the FCC did not represent the full position of the U.S. government, angering FCC officials, who believed the U.S. had agreed to that position. A spokesman for the ministry said the agency was “not aware of the incident.”

At the same time, Ajit Pai’s appeal to the White House put the Commerce Department on a “cold bench”. In April, Ajit Pai met with Trump and others at the White House, where Trump proposed a public 5G event. The FCC quickly helped organize a gathering of communications industry personnel at Roosevelt’s office. Ajit Pai spoke, but Commerce Department officials were not invited to attend and learn about the event, according to people familiar with the matter.

NTIA chief David Redl has tried to mediate the dispute. He was reportedly involved in a confrontation with Earl Comstock, a senior aide to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. Earl Comstock allegedly told others that the government should not use more spectrum for commercial purposes, even if 5G was a development goal.

Earl Comstock discussed ousting David Redl with the White House Office of Presidential Personnel this spring, people familiar with the matter said.

On May 6th David Redl gave a speech in which he called for greater cooperation in spectrum and warned against making “the wrong choices that would delay the development of the United States”. David Redl resigned on May 9. People familiar with the matter said he resigned under pressure from senior officials at the commerce ministry. David Redl declined to discuss his departure from the report.

A Commerce Department spokesman denied suggestions that Earl Comstock sought White House support for the firing of David Redl, or that Ross urged David Redl to step down. The spokesman said Earl Comstock and David Redl were “in agreement” on the millimeter spectrum and “worked together to support other Department of Commerce staff across the board.” “

The controversy escalated after David Redl left. Ajit Pai told a Senate hearing that the Commerce Department’s study of the interaction between 5G networks and weather satellites was “so flawed that, at least in our view, that the study is meaningless.” Senator Ron Johnson, an ally of Ajit Pai, wrote an open letter accusing Earl Comstock of putting “personal grievances ahead of our nation’s 5G goals.”

In his reply, Mr Ross objected, saying: “Just because the FCC does not agree with the results of the NOAA/NASA analysis does not mean that there is a ‘fundamental flaw’ in science.” “

Still waiting.

On July 11, officials from the FCC, commerce department and other agencies met at the White House. Larry Kudlow, director of the White House National Economic Council, reminded Ross at the meeting that President Trump wanted a 5G deployment, according to people familiar with the matter. Ross, on the other hand, expressed the concerns of Commerce Department scientists on prepared talking points.

The following week, the departments met again – but this time there were no staff. Mr. Ross reiterated his concerns, but other senior officials, including Larry Kudlow and White House Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, have made it clear that President Trump supports FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, according to people familiar with the matter.

A senior White House official said in an interview: “As one might expect, we did have some internal disputes, but they’ve all been resolved.” The official said the U.S. is in “good shape” for 5G deployments, adding: “It’s a miracle that we’re moving so fast.” “

Since the July meeting, U.S. government officials have said they have reached a compromise on rules governing the millimeter spectrum. International discussions on these rules will continue at this month’s World Radiocommunication Conference in Egypt (WORLD Radiocommunication Conference 2019, WRC-19).

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