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FCC lays out its big 5G push

Engadget Engadget 20/06/2016 Andrew Tarantola
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Speaking at the National Press Club on Monday, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler made an impassioned plea for the US to take the lead in developing a wireless 5G standard. "To seize the opportunities before us, we need the next generation of wireless connectivity – a fifth generation, or 5G," he said. What's more he laid forth a plan to do it. On Thursday, Wheeler will seek to "open up" a swath of high-band spectrum for 5G applications; he's calling it the Spectrum Frontiers proceeding.

The FCC plans to use 200 MHz-wide chunks of high-band spectrum because, unlike lower frequencies, it can offer the gigabit per second throughput and sub-millisecond latency that 5G applications demand. 5G will usher in an Internet of Everything, Wheeler told the Press Club. "If something can be connected, it will be connected in a 5G world." Wheeler cited various remote operation scenarios, such as surgeons using VR to operate on patients hundreds of miles away, to illustrate the need for ultrafast wireless connectivity. He expects the commission's research to be completed and the proposal ready for a vote by July 14th. Should it be adopted, America would become the first nation on Earth to actively reserve frequency for 5G development.

5G networks will require a number of infrastructure updates, specifically a large number of small cell sites. To account for this, the FCC will streamline its environmental and historic preservation rules, which will allow local governments more flexibility in where they situate these devices. The commission will also reportedly take a collaborative approach to addressing the networks cybersecurity and will reach out to "all stakeholders".

Wheeler stated that he expects the private sector to lead this development and produce the necessary technical standards on its own. Verizon and AT&T have both already announced that they'll begin testing 5G next year. And if what we saw at Mobile World Congress is any indication, they won't be the last. "Turning innovators loose is far preferable to expecting committees and regulators to define the future." Wheeler said. "We won't wait for the standards to be first developed in the sometimes arduous standards-setting process or in a government-led activity."

That said, the end result of the coming 5G revolution is still very much up in the air. "I've listed some examples of what 5G makes possible," Wheeler told the crowd. "But if anyone tells you they know the details of what 5G will deliver, walk the other way."

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