Bidding began Wednesday on spectrum in the 28 GHz band and will be followed by bidding for spectrum in the 24 GHz band. The FCC is making 1.55 gigahertz of spectrum available and the auctions will be followed by a 2019 auction of three more millimeter-wave spectrum bands — 37 GHz, 39 GHz and 47 GHz.
"These airwaves will be critical in deploying 5G services and applications," FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said Wednesday.
5G networks are expected to be at least 100 times faster than current 4G networks and cut latency, or delays, to less than one-thousandth of a second from one-hundredth of a second in 4G. They also will allow for innovations in a number of different fields. While millimeter-wave spectrum offers faster speeds, it cannot cover big geographic areas and will require significant new small cell infrastructure deployments.
FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr said the spectrum being auctioned would allow for "faster broadband to autonomous cars, from smart [agriculture] to telehealth."
The spectrum being auctioned over the next 15 months "is more spectrum than is currently used for terrestrial mobile broadband by all wireless service providers combined," the FCC said.
Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said the United States was following "the lead of South Korea, the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Ireland and Australia. But we put ourselves back in the running for next-generation wireless leadership," and she called on the FCC to clearly state the timing for future spectrum auctions.
Last month, U.S. President Donald Trump signed a presidential memorandum directing the Commerce Department to develop a long-term comprehensive national spectrum strategy to prepare for the introduction of 5G.
Trump is also creating a White House Spectrum Strategy Task Force and wants federal agencies to report on government spectrum needs and review how spectrum can be shared with private sector users.
AT&T, Verizon Communications, Sprint and T-Mobile U.S. are working to acquire spectrum and are developing and testing 5G networks. The first 5G-compatible commercial cellphones are expected to go on sale next year.