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FCC unlocks critical piece of the 5G puzzle

The Federal Communications Commission votes to approve a new chunk of spectrum especially designed for superfast wireless Internet service.

James Martin/CNET
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FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler helped spearhead the move to unlock spectrum for 5G.

David Ramos/Getty Images

The Federal Communications Commission just brought the reality of a superspeedy 5G world a little closer.

The agency on Thursday voted to make available a block of spectrum for use in the next generation of cellular technology. It had introduced the proposal in June as a way to help drive innovation in the wireless industry.

The spectrum, which runs at a much higher frequency than the airwaves employed in today's network, provide the critical foundation for networks that boast speeds higher than your fastest home broadband service. While most experts believe a widespread 5G network won't appear until 2020, Verizon and AT&T are already conducting trials with the intent to offer limited service by next year.

Such a network will greatly enhance your wireless experience, allowing you to run virtual-reality applications and stream ultrahigh-definition video without a hiccup, while providing a steady connection to a myriad of devices around you. Carrier tests have shown 5G speeds that are 10 to 100 times faster than today's 4G networks, allowing you to, for example, download the entire collection of "Simpsons" episodes -- more than 600 -- in about half an hour.

"In a 5G world, the Internet of Everything will be fully realized; everything that can be connected will be connected," Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement. "Most important, 5G will enable killer applications yet to be imagined."

The move makes the US the first country to unlock this type of spectrum. South Korea and Japan have also made aggressive moves to spur the rollout of 5G technology.

Verizon, the CTIA wireless trade group and the Telecommunications Industry Associations were among those that applauded the move.

"The FCC's decision today to make thousands of megahertz of high frequency spectrum available will be a critical building block in our country's 5G future," said Craig Silliman, general counsel and executive vice president of public policy for Verizon.