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The FCC votes to open almost 11 GHz of HF spectrum for 5G

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July 18, 2016

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has unanimously voted to open almost 11 GHz of high-frequency wireless spectrum for 5G technology.

The new ruling will open up a total of 10.85 GHz of mobile spectrum above 24 GHz, a slew of spectrum FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said was more than four times larger than the total amount of licensed spectrum currently available for mobile services.

“I do believe that this is one of, if not the most important decision this agency will make this year,” Wheeler said before the vote.

“By becoming the first country to identify high band spectrum, the United States is ushering in the 5G era of high-capacity, high-speed and low latency wireless networks. By not getting involved in the technologies that will use the spectrum, we're turning loose the incredible innovators in the U.S.”

To be sure, the newly freed wireless spectrum includes 3.85 GHz of licensed spectrum from 27.5 to 28.35 GHz, and then 37 to 40 GHz as well as 7 GHz of unlicensed spectrum from 64 to 71 GHz.

Verizon, which was among the major carriers advocating for open spectrum in the 28 GHz, 37 GHz and 39 GHz bands ahead of its planned commercial 5G launch in mid-2017, praised the FCC's decision as one that will “help ensure that the U.S. maintains its leadership position in wireless communications.”

AT&T vice president of federal regulatory Joan Marsh similarly cheered the decision, calling it a “big down payment on the next generation of wireless innovation in the United States.”

“The decision, which is the result of several months of advocacy, reflects regulatory compromises designed to permit new 5G services while accommodating the business plans of incumbent licensees,” Marsh said in a statement.

“A careful review of the decision will be necessary to understand the balance struck between the competing interests, but we believe that the FCC’s actions today will provide the clarity needed to move forward with confidence with 5G trials and their development, ensuring continued U.S. leadership in wireless innovation and services,” the agency added.

The Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA), the Competitive Carriers of America, CTIA, Qualcomm and Ev Ehrlich, former undersecretary of commerce for the Clinton Administration, all voiced support for the decision as well.

However, not everyone is happy with the new rules. Michael Calabrese of New America’s Open Technology Institute called the decision “extremely shortsighted” and warned that the new rules leave too much wiggle room among some players.

“Because the large wireless carriers will use these bands only in city centers and high-traffic indoor venues, exclusive and indefinite licenses over large geographic areas is a recipe for leaving these millimeter bands vacant in more than 95 percent of the country and millions of venues,” Calabrese said.

“This creates a real risk of foreclosure and warehousing that would undermine both competition and innovation. Most important is to allow opportunistic public access to all unused spectrum in these bands and to ensure that the 600 megahertz set aside for sharing with federal incumbents is not auctioned, but open for use by any institution or individual,” he added.

Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile have already begun testing 5G technologies on 28 GHz spectrum. In February, AT&T applied for permission to conduct tests at 28 GHz in Austin, Texas.

In March, Verizon and T-Mobile both sought permission for experimental operations at 28 GHz. T-Mobile also filed for permission to conduct tests in the 37 GHz and 39 GHz bands.

In other mobile news

Judging by recent moves made by Apple, it would appear that the company is getting ready to bring its mobile payment service up to the next level for 2016.

Apple is planning to expand its 'Apple Pay' service beyond simple apps to include mobile websites later this year.

It wishes to make the service available to consumers shopping through its Safari browser on versions of the iPad and iPhone that have fingerprint scanners.

The company is also reportedly considering launching the service on Apple laptop and desktop computers as well.

To be sure, Apple Pay is currently used for both physical transactions and in-app purchases.

Apple’s decision to go into the online shopping business is expected to take place before the Christmas 2016 holiday shopping season.

The use of Apple Pay for mobile websites would allow users to skip steps in the checkout process, namely the input of payment and shipping information, and then to streamline the mobile shopping experience.

The concept is that this simplified process will equate to more sales for those who enable the feature, especially as the proportion of mobile shoppers increases.

According to a report from the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), about 70.2 percent of the 155 million individuals expected to shop during the 2016 holiday season said they planned to make purchases online.

About 51.7 percent of consumers said they would likely use a smartphone or tablet while shopping online.

As mid-February, Apple Pay was accepted at more than two million physical locations across the globe, though that number has likely increased since Apple launched the service in China five weeks ago.

About two weeks ago, Bloomberg estimated the number of active monthly Apple Pay users at 12 million, compared to five million each for Google’s Android Pay and Samsung’s Samsung Pay.

In other mobile and wireless news

New research from GfK reveals that about 53 percent of Generation Z (aged 18 to 24) U.S. consumers said they’ve made a mobile payment while using the Internet in the past six months.

According to the study, the number for Generation Z was nearly four times the 14 percent figure for Baby Boomers (aged 50 to 68) and substantially higher than the 37 percent for Generation Y (aged 25 to 34), and 27 percent for Generation X (aged 35 to 49).

While mobile payments on smartphone, tablets and other mobile devices account for just 3.1 percent of all transactions in the U.S., the payment method accounts for 7.2 percent of transactions among Generation Z, the study discovered.

But Generation Z consumers don’t just use mobile payments more, they also have more faith in the system and are the group most excited about paying for “more and more transactions” from their mobile devices, says Gfk.

According to the firm’s results, no less than thirty-one percent of Generation Z consumers agreed that “making payments with a mobile device is more secure than other methods” and 53 percent said they were looking forward to using mobile for more transactions.

By comparison, only 16 percent of the overall population felt mobile payments are secure, though at 28 percent, Generation Y was most closely in line with Generation Z.

On average, only six percent of Baby Boomers feel mobile payments are secure. Generation Z’s enthusiasm for a future with increased mobile payment opportunities also outstripped the U.S. average of 27 percent.

Generation Y was right behind their younger cohorts with 45 percent looking forward to more mobile payments.

GfK said Generation Z’s inclination for mobile payments and uncertainty in the general population provide an opening for companies to better explain in detail the system’s real value proposition to consumers.

“Many consumers today do not understand the advantages offered by mobile payments,” said Tim Spenny, Vice President on GfK’s Financial Services team.

“This creates an opportunity for the wireless industry to develop its own narrative around why people should use mobile devices to pay for their purchases, with the better security, speed and ease of use top among the reasons. In 2016, we see mobile payments gaining traction through the addition of benefits such as rewards, discounts, and coupons that are integrated into phone payment systems,” he added.

But in crafting that message, the mobile services industry will have to address the one universal concern among consumers: privacy.

Source: The Federal Communications Commission.

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