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FCC sets date for first 5G spectrum auction

The first spectrum auction of airwaves dedicated to the deployment of 5G services is scheduled to start in November.

The seal of the Federal Communications Commission

The bits of spectrum the FCC will auction off make for "an important piece in the mix of spectrum that will be required to make 5G a reality," said AT&T Executive Vice President Joan Marsh.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The Federal Communications Commission has set the date for its first wireless spectrum auction to usher in the era of 5G.

The five-member commission voted unanimously at its April meeting this week to begin the auction of 28 Gigahertz spectrum on Nov. 14. Another auction for spectrum in the 24GHZ band will immediately follow. All told, the FCC hopes to sell 6,000 licenses for the airwaves.

The agency is also seeking comment on application and bidding procedures for the spectrum, as well as rules for the auction.

The news comes as regulators and wireless companies talk up the benefits of 5G, or the fifth generation of wireless technology. The tech promises to be significantly faster and more responsive than previous generations of wireless. Industry observers expect it to usher in innovative applications in self-driving cars, telemedicine and the trend in net-connected devices called the internet of things.  

Though the promise of 5G has been hyped, actual rollouts have been slow. Regulators at the FCC have been pushing policies to ensure the US maintains its leadership in wireless. The agency has voted to relax requirements for 5G small cell radio deployments in order to speed deployment.

Wireless watchers expect US providers to make significant headway in 2018. Verizon and AT&T plan to launch limited mobile 5G service this year, and T-Mobile and Sprint are setting things up now for a commercial launch early next year. Handset makers and chipmakers are working to get devices ready for 2019 as well.

The industry applauded the FCC's efforts to move the auction forward. AT&T's executive vice president, Joan Marsh, said the slivers of spectrum the FCC will auction off are  "an important piece in the mix of spectrum that will be required to make 5G a reality." She said the company also wants to see the FCC make other spectrum available for auction.

Scott Bergman, a senior vice president for the CTIA, the wireless industry's lobbying group, said in a statement that "spectrum availability is a key input in the readiness and ability of the US to win the global race to 5G." Bergman said the industry looks forward to "working with the commission on implementing these critical auctions and on identifying and auctioning additional bands."

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