Commissioner Michael O’Rielly mentions “new action” on macro sites in the “very near future”

In testimony before the Senate Commerce committee this week, FCC commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Jessica Rosenworcel laid out their perspectives on the United States’ key 5G needs and hinted at possible directions for the Federal Communications Commission when it comes to bolstering the United States’ global position in 5G.

O’Rielly took a measured but positive view of the potential of 5G, saying that after having witnessed multiple generations of technology migration, he “truly [believes] that 5G has the opportunity to revolutionize wireless communications and, for that matter, the entire communications landscape. While I try not to overhype the technology and believe we must have realistic expectations regarding deployment and adoption timelines, its potential to transform not only consumer products but also the industrial sector is clear.”

He went on to say that while the FCC has been “aggressive in identifying, allocating, and licensing” spectrum, the spectrum allocation process “requires long lead times and extensive preparations. … There are multiple reasons for the time lag, but none involve political influence or lack of interest.”

He disagreed with criticism that the FCC has been inactive on midband spectrum for 5G, citing the work on the Citizens Broadband Radio Service — which has been put into early commercial use and for which Priority Access Licenses will be auctioned this summer. In addition, O’Rielly said that the Commission’s effort to reallocate the C Band has “required considerable work to convince the current satellite users to shrink their spectrum footprint for the betterment of our spectrum policy objectives. This also required extensive consideration into how to accommodate and protect existing services and users, as well as working through the different mechanisms and components needed to execute a fair and transparent auction process. While I certainly wish this process could have concluded earlier, the most important thing now is getting it done.”

He also said that federal agencies who are supposed to be looking at their midband spectrum holdings for potential sharing are only looking at a portion of 3.1-3.55 GHz, rather than the whole band; O’Rielly said that he would like to see the top 100 megahertz in that band freed for “exclusive, commercial use and open a considerable amount of the remaining 350 MHz for sharing.”

The commissioner also said that macro sites will be important to 5G roll-outs in suburban and rural areas, and that the commission “will need to be aggressive to ensure the siting process is not impeded, and I am hopeful we will take new action on macros in the very near future.”

In terms of unlicensed spectrum, O’Rielly noted that both he and Rosenworcel have pursued additional spectrum for unlicensed use for a number of years, and that he believes the commission should open 5.9 and 6 GHz for unlicensed use and that incumbent operations can be properly protected.

Both O’Rielly and Rosenworcel pointed out the workforce needs of the telecommunications industry as it transitions to a 5G world. O’Rielly said that while attention has been paid to the need for more tower installation crews, there is also a need for more growth in fields including radio frequency management, communications engineering and other related skills.

“While some of these positions can be filled in the regular course and with on-the-job training, others will require more extensive efforts. In other words, industry is likely to require a more systemic plan of action, potentially leveraging the assistance of the Federal government, than in past technological evolutions,” O’Rielly said — although he promptly added that this was more the purview of the Labor Department than the FCC.

Rosenworcel suggested a “human capital tax credit” to encourage employers to invest in their workers, one that would “offset a portion of new training activities to support the future of work. This could help upgrade our workforce, ensure access to in-demand skills, and create more job security for American workers nationwide.”

Rosenworcel laid out three areas which she said need more comprehensive plans than currently exist: a plan to deploy 5G technology to “everyone, everywhere in the United States,” including more action on midband spectrum to ease the deployment constraints of millimeter wave-based 5G. She also said that the U.S. needs to “do more to prepare our workforce for digital change” and that the country will need another 20,000 trained tower climbers to install 5G networks and that “in the longer term, we will need many other workers for every layer of the 5G ecosystem.” But, she noted, “the Department of Labor currently does not list 5G jobs as a priority for its registered apprenticeship programs.”

In addition to a plan for 5G and workforce development, Rosenworcel said that before the U.S. embraces a 5G future, it has to “ask hard questions about security” — and not just for network equipment but for end devices. She said that while the FCC has focused on supply chain issues such as banning the use of federal funds for “insecure Chinese network equipment”, it needs to revisit its device certification process and “explore how it can be used to encourage device manufacturers to build security into new products.” She said that the commission could build on the recommendations of the National Institute of Standards and Technology for IoT devices, which she called “a great place to start.”

She also suggested that the FCC look at how it can support virtualization and open radio access networks, and said that the FCC could build O-RAN testing opportunities into its 5G testbed work in New York and Salt Lake City, Utah.

O-RAN research and development was a key component of a bill put forth in the Senate earlier this week, which aims to strengthen non-Chinese options in the 5G network ecosystem.

Also in his testimony, O’Rielly did see a role for the FCC in advancing development and use of wireless power for the billions of wireless devices expected to be connected in the next few years.

“Power is likely to be delivered differently in the future, as outlets with plugs and disposable batteries are likely to be replaced by wireless power,” O’Rielly said, going on to add that “we are fairly early in the process, but we’d better figure out all of the regulatory complications and barriers before the device explosion occurs. The Commission may be the right entity to guide, design, or manage the transition to wireless power.”

He also said that after participating in the World Radio Conference in 2019, he felt that “it was very evident that certain foreign delegations were sent with clear directions to oppose the United States and other forward-thinking nations” and that “we should not let ourselves be obstructed by rogue nations that have little interest in global wireless development or are willing to undermine progress for purposes of a larger self-interested agenda.” O’Rielly suggested to the committee that the U.S. “should explore the formation of a G7-like organization or loose coalition of leading wireless nations, as an alternative to the ITU. Near-global harmonization could be achieved through agreement of the largest, leading wireless nations of the world. To some degree, this is why the private standardsetting organizations — i.e., those outside the ITU — have become more prominent and why I have also spent considerable time ensuring these entities are not sidelined by certain nations’ political agendas.”


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