Google Fiber, Nokia throw support behind 3.7-4.2 GHz efforts for fixed wireless

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Google and others say a lot of U.S. households still lack broadband service and could benefit from fixed-wireless offerings enabled by the 3.7-4.2 GHz band.

Google Fiber and Nokia are among the stakeholders throwing their support behind a petition by the Fixed Wireless Communications Coalition (FWCC) that seeks to explore ways to facilitate greater terrestrial use of the 3.7-4.2 GHz band.

The FWCC filed a petition with the FCC in October asking regulators to update the rules for the 3.7-4.2 GHz band so that more of the spectrum can be used for terrestrial applications. Not surprisingly, the satellite industry opposes any changes, saying the FWCC filing just reiterates stale and unsupported allegations that were brought up in 1999 about the “supposed adverse effect of full-band, full-arc licensing of fixed-satellite satellite service (FSS) earth stations on the terrestrial fixed service (FS).”

“Like its 1999 predecessor, the FWCC Petition provides no evidence that current policies harm FS networks: the filing does not contain even a single example of an FS provider being unable to establish a microwave link because of objections from an FSS earth station licensee,” the Satellite Industry Association (SIA) told the FCC. “To the contrary, the FWCC itself has advised the Commission that coordination procedures for microwave links are successful. Statistics show robust use by microwave networks of the extended Ku-band.”

The FWCC, a coalition of companies in the terrestrial fixed microwave space, argues that current rules are outdated and says full-band, full-arc coordination by earth stations would have no adverse effect on other earth-station applicants because FSS uplinks and downlinks operate in different bands, yet it has a major negative impact on FS stations attempting to coordinate.

In an FSS downlink band, full-band, full-arc coordination bars an FS applicant from every frequency in the band over a wide area, even if the earth station is not receiving on those frequencies and has no plans to, according to FWCC. In the 3.7-4.2 GHz downlink band, registered earth stations are so numerous as to make any FS coordination impossible in most of the country, yet many of those earth stations each access just one transponder on one satellite, the coalition said.

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Google Fiber, in its filing (PDF) with the commission, says one area of particular need for spectrum is last-mile broadband connectivity. Companies such as Verizon, Google Fiber, Facebook and Starry are developing  last-mile fixed wireless systems that can extend fiber-optic networks and bring high-speed broadband services to residential customers. Webpass, a wireless internet access provider acquired by Google Fiber last year, already has rolled out these services in cities like Boston, Chicago and San Francisco.

“Lack of usable spectrum presents a major obstacle to broadband deployments, however. Reliable fixed wireless broadband demands relatively low frequencies that are resistant to environmental degradation, such as attenuation caused by foliage and buildings,” Google Fiber told the commission. “While there are lower-frequency bands nominally available for fixed service operations, they are either fully occupied by auctioned licenses (for example, the Broadband Personal Communications Service band at 1850-1990 MHz and the Broadband Radio Service/Educational Broadband Service band at 2496-2690), or have insufficient available bandwidth (for example, the Private Operational Fixed Microwave Service band at 952-960 MHz)."

Nokia says the U.S. should quit granting satellite operators the right to force valuable spectrum, which they never intend to use, to lay fallow. “Indeed, adoption of the FWCC proposal would simply even the playing field for coordination between FSS and FS—co-equal services,” Nokia stated. “Further, grant of the rule change would harmonize U.S. FSS licensing practices with those of other countries like Canada, which, in Nokia’s experience, do not afford FSS such broad coordination privileges.”

Part of what makes 3.7-4.2 GHz so attractive are its favorable propagation characteristics—similar to the 3.5 GHz band—and when combined with the 3.55-3.7 GHz range can provide 650 MHz of contiguous spectrum in the 3.5 GHz range that could enable extreme broadband delivery, according to Nokia. It’s also a prime candidate for global harmonization, with the 3.5 GHz and 4 GHz ranges being considered for 5G in Europe, Japan and China.

Nokia says momentum is growing for the band. Senator John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, re-introduced the Mobile Now (S.19) bill on Jan.3, 2017, the first day of the new Congress. The act seeks out new spectrum resources below the 6 GHz band for commercial use and includes mandates to study the potential of the 3.1-3.5 GHz and 3.7-4.2 GHz bands.

The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA), which represents more than 800 WISPs, also supports the FWCC initiative and says one of the primary challenges for WISPs is access to sufficient spectrum. WISPs in the U.S. primarily use unlicensed spectrum in the 600 MHz TV white space band, 900 MHz, 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands and the lightly-licensed 3650-3700 MHz band to deliver last-mile broadband. The 3.7-4.2 GHz band is of interest to WISPs in part because it's adjacent to the 3.5 GHz band.

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