FCC Votes on Future of 5G and Replacing Old Connections

The FCC today voted on two issues that could have far reaching implications on the future of data and 5G connections as well as the future of outdated landline connections to make way for new wireless connections or more advanced fiber  connections.

First to the 5G

The first vote was regarding the opening up of high frequency bands to carry 5G speeds all over America. FCC Chairman, Tom Wheeler said that this might be the most important decision they make this year. He said they wanted to “turn loose the incredible innovators of this country”, by providing the means for high speed connections without dictating how those connections should be deployed.

The FCC voted unanimously to open up nearly 11 GHz of band spectrum for this purpose (3.85 GHz of licensed spectrum and 7 GHz of unlicensed spectrum). The frequencies chosen were 28 GHz, 37 GHz, 39 GHz and 64-71 GHz. By choosing these higher bands, the FCC can allocate larger and larger blocks so that more data can be carried. However, there is a trade-off (there always is). Using high frequencies means that they can easily be blocked, making the task of covering long distances and indoor locations much harder for cellular carriers and phone companies.5g-speedometer-logoThis vote was influenced by the announcement by Verizon earlier this week that they had worked out what frequencies they were going to broadcast their 5G waves in as well as the protocols they were going to use. Verizon also announced they were going to begin pre-commercial testing in Texas, Massachusetts and New Jersey. Now even though most estimates placed the advent of the 5G technology around 2020, Verizon’s fast pace has moved the timetable. Add to that, the fact that T-Mobile and AT&T are not far behind either and you’ve got a unanimous vote.

Out With The Old

The FCC also voted to accelerate the shift from copper based landlines to fiber optic cables and wireless networks for IP based voice services, something that it has pushing for since last year. The vote has allowed cellular carrier services to discontinue the old ways in 30 days of an application if they meet all three requirements of a test. They are:

  1. Access to 911 and cyber security. Also access for people with disabilities should meet a certain standard.
  2. No noticeable change in network performance, reliability and coverage
  3. Compatibility with the most common services people and small businesses use such as security systems, medical monitoring devices and fax machines.

This presents its own set of problems of course. Customers have to be notified that their connections are being changed from copper to fiber optics and then there’s the problem of connections being lost due to power outages. Due to an FCC vote last August, carriers have to inform customers of both those problems when they switch them over to fiber optics. Customers have to be notified 3 months in advance and they must also be given the option to buy back up batteries for their connections in case of power cuts.

In regards to the votes, a surprising collective statement was issued by Verizon, AT&T, the US Telecom, Public Knowledge and the Communications Workers of America. Usually these groups are at each in squabbles regarding policy and rules but today they pledged to “work together in the spirit of cooperation and good faith rather than in an atmosphere of confrontation and suspicion.”