FCC Challenges Engineers to Innovate the +95GHz Bands

Article By : Rick Merritt

If the FCC can open up larger swaths of spectrum at 900 MHz, it “will unleash 5G-style capabilities and data rates that penetrate buildings and basements much more easily"

SAN JOSE, Calif. — What wireless devices could work in the heady region between 95GHz and 3THz? That’s the question the chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission is asking.

The FCC will start work on releasing a whopping 21 GHz of spectrum above 95GHz at proceedings in March. In addition, it aims to open up bands from 95GHz to 3THz for experiments, and it will propose broadband uses at the other end of the spectrum in the unlicensed 900-MHz band.

The news comes as engineers struggle to deal with the power consumption demands and distance limits of the 24-36 GHz bands for 5G cellular. Samsung announced the first handset for 5G mmwaves Wednesday, but it requires a significantly larger case and battery. Engineers from AT&T and Verizon say they still have plenty to learn about harnessing the bands.

The upper spectrum “has traditionally not been seen as suited for wireless communications, given the physical properties of these extremely-high bands,” said FCC chairman Ajit Pai in an article announcing the plans.

“We currently don’t know precisely what types of applications and wireless services the laws of physics will permit in these bands…[So,] we’ll set up a big sandbox for engineers and technologists to work with  —  and we’ll then see what American ingenuity delivers,” he added.

“I have a hunch that major new federal R&D funding will soon follow these efforts, and we will be there to take advantage of the support,” said Ted Rappaport, director of NYU Wireless, a research group that helped pioneer use of 5G mmwaves in the face of heavy skepticism.

“I am very bullish on the idea of cellular above 95 GHz, and I am sure it will happen. The bandwidths at frequencies above 95 GHz will be vastly wider than anything available to date–imagine 1-10 GHz RF channels with data rates of hundreds of gigabits to your cellphone,” Rappaport said.

Early work from his center shows “propagation above 95 GHz is not much different from today’s 5G millimeter wave systems, although penetration into buildings is a bit more difficult.” In addition, interference with satellites mainly used by NASA “would be minimal at these frequencies when high gain directional antennas are used for future terrestrial networks,” he added.

The FCC’s plan called Spectrum Horizons will no doubt take months to put into place. If successful, it is just the beginning of hard work for engineering community. The FCC’s early move to open up the 28-39GHz bands in the U.S. helped U.S. developers get an early lead in 5G.

Separately, Pai tipped plans to make a swath of the unlicensed 900 MHz band available for broadband use. A new variant of Wi-Fi was the latest of many to jump into the so-called ISM band. The FCC plan includes proposals to open up more of the widely used space by relocating some incumbents using it.

Such efforts are notoriously slow to bear fruit and can cost billions. Work is still going on to free up spectrum in the 600 MHz band once used by over-the-air TV broadcasters in the age of rabbit ears antennas.

If the FCC can open up larger swaths of spectrum at 900 MHz, it “will unleash 5G-style capabilities and data rates at the lower bands that penetrate buildings and basements much more easily,” said Rappaport. “Massive MIMO will be better enabled and will provide…multiple Gbits/s to the handset, especially as the bandwidths of mobile spectrum is increased,” he added.

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