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FCC approves spectrum for 5G advances

The Federal Communications Commission took action Thursday to spur on the development of faster 5G mobile wireless networks and the transition from traditional landline phone systems.

With a 5-0 vote the commission designated a large block of spectrum for next-generation wireless broadband services, as well as fixed networks that could supplant current wired broadband. These 5G services would provide improved speeds of up to 100 times faster than delivered by today’s 4G wireless networks.

The spectrum is in higher bands than currently used — including 28 Gigahertz, 37 GHz and 39 GHz  — and can deliver more data than current networks. “By becoming the first nation to identify high-band spectrum, the United States is ushering in the 5G era of high-capacity, high-speed, low-latency wireless networks,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said.

Industry and consumer groups applauded the agency’s move. “These new bands will be capable of delivering data at much higher speeds than what’s currently available under 4G and LTE, improving the abilities of consumers to truly capitalize on the transformative power of wireless,” said Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association in a statement. “The Commission’s commitment to making some of this spectrum available on a lightly licensed or unlicensed basis will support the kind of permission-less innovation that has characterized the U.S. wireless market.”

In another 5-0 vote, the commission updated regulations to make it easier for telecommunications providers to transition from older telephone networks to newer wireless and Internet-based voice networks.

In the year 2000, about 200 American homes had traditional phone lines, compared with only about 73 million today, said Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.  “Americans are increasingly choosing other ways to communicate including a growing number of (voice over Internet) and wireless connections,” she said. “This is what network changes looks like.”

The FCC’s order “is our means of ensuring that consumers will receive in the future what they expect now: reliable and secure voice service,” said Commissioner Mignon Clyburn.

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