Six big questions about the FCC’s $9 billion fund for rural 5G
The FCC wants to dole out $9 billion to finance the construction of 5G networks in rural areas of the US. Naturally, the devil is in the details.
Should the agency require participants in the program to build speedy 5G networks, or are slower networks OK too? Should satellite providers be allowed to receive money from the fund? And should 4G be considered a 5G technology?
These are just some of the topics that companies across the industry are debating as the FCC considers exactly how to allocate a fund that’s roughly the same size as the state of New Jersey’s budget shortfall.
Here are the top 5G Fund issues under discussion:
1. How fast should the networks be?
“The Commission should set the speed target for the 5G Fund well above 35/3Mbit/s,” wrote Verizon to the FCC, pointing to the agency’s proposed 35Mbit/s download requirement. “The proposed 35/3Mbit/s speed target, which is within the range of current 4G LTE speeds, will have fallen far behind 5G network capabilities by the end of the support term.”
“Such a requirement is not feasible in rural areas,” wrote the Rural Wireless Association (RWA), a trade group that represents some of the nation’s smallest wireless network operators. “As speeds increase, coverage diminishes. In order to feasibly cover rural areas, support recipients will need to be able to rely on propagation that minimizes the number of sites deployed.”
Verizon’s position on the topic doesn’t come as much of a surprise given that it currently offers an average 5G download speed of almost 500Mbit/s, according to network-monitoring company OpenSignal. However, as the firm points out, Verizon’s blazing-fast 5G network is only available in parts of a handful of cities due to the millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum it’s using. A broad buildout of 5G in mmWave spectrum in rural areas would cost far, far more than $9 billion.
Indeed, a Google study indicated it would take $400 billion to deliver 100Mbit/s to 72% of the US population using 5G in mmWave spectrum.
2. Can satellite providers get money from the 5G Fund?
“The Commission should not stifle 5G deployment by barring mobile service providers from using satellite technologies that can support latency-sensitive mobile services, such as SES’s Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) satellite network,” the satellite provider argued to the FCC.
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