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FCC's 5G plans loop in a new range of wireless spectrum

And satellite operators are standing by.

FCC Holds Vote On Repeal Of Net Neutrality Rules
The FCC voted yes on expanding the use of midband spectrum.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Federal Communications Commission wants to make it easier for the US to be at the forefront of 5G technology.

On Thursday, the FCC adopted an order to expand use of midband spectrum, such as the C-band, to prepare for the arrival of 5G networks.

5G, the next generation of cellular technology, is expected to enhance internet speeds and coverage, and the responsiveness of wireless networks. 5G networks require a mix of very high frequency spectrum, as well as what's called midband spectrum, below 6 Gigahertz, which is often referred to as the C-band. The spectrum is currently used by cable and broadcast networks to deliver video to more than 100 million US households, as well as by some US government agencies.

"It's time to put every band on a schedule that is publicly available for all to see ... what is being auctioned and when," said Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. "If we do these things, we have a fighting chance to lead in the deployment of next-generation wireless networks for which midband spectrum is key, both at home and abroad."

The FCC's proposal, backed by three satellite operators -- Eutelsat, Intelsat and SES -- recommends opening up roughly 100 MHz of spectrum to be shared among satellite TV operators. The goal is to clear the spectrum for use in 18 to 36 months, which could speed up the deployment of 5G networks.

Broadcast and cable groups have cautioned, however, that sharing the spectrum may cause interference issues.

"An industry-based solution developed by those who have invested heavily in C-band is essential to avoid disruption of national video and audio broadcasts, emergency services, and military applications in the U.S. that all depend entirely on continued access to C-band," said Markus Payer, vice president of corporate communications at SES, in an email statement.

The adopted order will require fixed satellite service Earth stations operating in the 3.7-4.2 GHz band to provide registration and licensing information to help the FCC better understand how the spectrum is currently used, according to the commission's release. The FCC will then evaluate the most efficient way to drive the deployment of midband spectrum for mobile services.

"We intend to continue to work constructively with the commission, our customers and other stakeholders," Intelsat spokesperson Dianne VanBeber said in an emailed statement. "The satellite operators -- Intelsat, SES and now joined by Eutelsat -- will work to demonstrate our ability ... to accelerate the era of 5G in the US."

First published on July 12, 9:19 a.m. PT.

Updates, 11:34 a.m. PT: Adds SES spokesperson Markus Payer statement. 

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