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Big visions for 5G before the FCC

Matt Hamblen | Jan. 23, 2015
Drones, robots, balloons, satellites all suggested to be used in high-frequency wireless spectrum range.

wireless traffic stream speeding down the street.

Drones, robots, high-altitude balloons and low-altitude satellites are all envisioned to provide fifth-generation (5G) wireless connections as early as 2020, according to recent FCC filings from 55 companies, including Google, Samsung, Intel and Qualcomm.

In October, the Federal Communications Commission asked for input on potential uses and technology requirements for high-frequency wireless spectrum in bands above 24 GHz. Most wireless uses today use frequencies below 6 GHz. The FCC set a Jan. 15 deadline for responses, and dozen of organizations laid out insights for suitable uses of the high-frequency bands, some of them general and others very specific.

In addition to futuristic technology scenarios, many companies pressed the FCC to consider high-frequency wireless uses in cooperation with the global technology community and not in a vacuum, so that a common worldwide approach evolves.

Some disagreements have already emerged, including one over whether the FCC should license high frequency spectrum for use by individual network operators or leave such bands unlicensed.

The CTIA, the trade group representing U.S. wireless carriers, urged the FCC to issue exclusive licenses for use of the high frequency spectrum bands "as much as practicable." Google, meanwhile, argued that "the high-frequency bands are especially suitable for shared and unlicensed use."

Higher frequency bands have shorter wavelengths and typically have not been used for many cellular wireless transmissions because they require sending a signal in a straight line (line-of-sight) and don't easily penetrate walls and trees.

However, recent advanced antennas and technologies under development to shape radio waves with hardware and software make it possible to send signals over high frequencies that can reach 200 yards at speeds of up to 10 Gbps, according to several filings. That speed is 1,000 times faster than the typical 10 Mbps downlink on an LTE smartphone today.

That kind of wireless throughput will require cramming many more antennas into smartphones and other handsets, several companies said in their comments to the FCC. But it will also be useful for connecting smart devices to one another, including sensors in cars, along streets and throughout businesses and homes.

There isn't a widely agreed upon definition of 5G or an actual 5G standard. The most ambitious uses include wireless augmented reality, virtual reality, 3D and quick access to a worker's cloud-connected office via wireless. The International Telecommunications Union, an agency of the United Nations, is holding a World Radio Communication Conference in Geneva in November that will help establish international spectrum and technology requirements for 5G for 2020 and beyond.

Hoping to get an early start, the FCC has set Feb. 17 as the deadline for making what it calls "reply" comments in addition to the initial comments that were due Jan. 15. The FCC is actively encouraging reply comments from citizens of all types, not just large companies. Comments can be made by going to the FCC website and clicking on item 14-177 and filling in the short comment form. All comments will be made public.


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