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US to reallocate Defense mid-band spectrum for commercial 5G networks


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The US government on Monday announced a plan to redeploy spectrum currently used by the military towards commercialised 5G networks.

The reallocation will see 100MHz of spectrum in the 3.45-3.55GHz band, known as mid-band spectrum, be made available for commercial 5G networks via an auction. 

“Through collaboration with the Department of Defense, the Administration has worked carefully to ensure commercial use of this critically-needed mid-band spectrum does not compromise military preparedness or national security,” the White House said in a statement. 

Following the decision, which was made in a 15-week review by the Department of Defense, a total of 530MHz worth of spectrum will have been made available by the US government for commercial 5G networks. 

Defense currently uses the mid-band spectrum for radar operations that support missile defence, counter mortar capabilities, weapons control, electronic warfare, air defence, and air traffic control. 

Under the new spectrum-sharing solution, the spectrum band will continue to be used by the department, but it will also be available for use by the private sector.

“[Defense] leveraged technical work performed by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to develop a spectrum-sharing solution that would allow 5G development to progress in the private sector, while at the same time, allow the US military to continue to use that spectrum to meet national security requirements,” Defense said.

See also: What is 5G? The business guide to next-generation wireless technology  

5G networks require a mix of low, mid, and high-band spectrum. The low band carries signals over long distances, whereas the high band travels shorter distances but is good for data-intensive tasks, the US government said. 

Mid-band spectrum, meanwhile, is useful for 5G use cases because it can deliver high capacity and reliability over larger geographic areas, it added.

The mid-band spectrum will be distributed through a 5G auction held by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). 

The auction date will be finalised once service rules are made for how the spectrum is to be used.

Last week, Verizon SVP of Federal Regulatory and Legal Affairs Will Johnston said increasing the availability of mid-band spectrum was very important for allowing the US to maintain its global competitiveness in the 5G space. 

“New spectrum in the mid-band will help close the digital divide and open the door to new innovations for millions of American consumers and businesses,” he said.

At the same time, the FCC is currently planning a 5G auction for 280MHz of C-band spectrum that was made available at the start of the year.

Major telcos such as Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile are expected to bid for the freed C-band frequencies, with Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg previously labelling the proposal as a “monumental” moment for the rollout of 5G networks in the US. 

The C-band spectrum auction will be held in December.  

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