The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently proposed the shared access of the 42 GHz band, a move that could disrupt the telecoms industry by introducing new service providers and business models. The proposal suggests the establishment of a sharing mechanism to prevent interference among users of the same airwaves. This proposal, however, contrasts with the position of the US industry group CTIA, which has been advocating for more exclusive-use spectrum, citing better protection from interference and higher quality of service.

The FCC’s proposal has received mixed reactions within the telecoms community. Some argue that millimeter wave (mmWave) frequencies, such as the 42 GHz band, are well-suited for sharing. This is due to their limited propagation capabilities, which reduces the chances of interference. Millimeter waves can be highly-directional and easily blocked by obstacles, which means they can be used in closer proximity without causing interference issues. Furthermore, there are currently no incumbent users of the 42 GHz band, which means no concerns about harmful interference or compensation for those being moved to alternative spectrum.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said, “Our goal here is to come up with a new model to lower barriers, encourage competition and maximize the opportunities in millimeter-wave spectrum. In short, it’s time to be creative.” The regulator has proposed several methods for shared access and hopes to receive industry feedback.

One possible approach is offering nationwide licenses and implementing a third-party database to record site deployments. This would ensure that operators coordinate their 42-GHz rollouts to avoid overlap and interference. Another option is licensing spectrum on a site-by-site basis and making each site’s information publicly available on the FCC’s Universal Licensing System.

A third approach involves ‘technology-based sensing’, which requires licensees to temporarily cease transmission in an area to detect other licensees’ receivers, then only transmit in directions where no such receivers are present. These methods all potentially allow new players to enter the market, potentially leading to fixed-wireless access (FWA) services targeted at specific market segments such as community broadband or SME communications.

Moreover, companies like Amazon that already offer enterprise connectivity using CBRS spectrum might be interested in accessing mmWave frequencies without going through operators. Although Amazon has denied rumors about bundling mobile access with Amazon Prime membership, the availability of the 42 GHz spectrum could change their plans.

The development of the FCC’s new proposals will be an interesting development to watch, and it remains to be seen how incumbent operators react to this potential shake-up of the industry.