AWS-3 auction winners could face lots of spectrum-coordination hitches

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Winners in the upcoming AWS-3 auction may find themselves confronting years of spectrum-coordination challenges as they work to finesse their way through incumbent relocation and frequency-sharing issues, according to Chris Hardy, general manager of CommScope subsidiary Comsearch.

Chris Hardy, general manager of CommScope subsidiary Comsearch

Hardy

Hardy, who is also president and CEO of Comsearch Government Solutions, said potential bidders would be well served by knowing what they are getting into before they start making offers for the AWS-3 spectrum.

In terms of spectrum coordination, U.S. regulators "seem to be going in order of difficulty," Hardy told FierceWirelessTech. "PCS was fairly tame compared to AWS-1, and now AWS-3 is going to be extremely complex," he said.

The AWS-3 auction is scheduled to start Nov. 13, and the FCC has set a total reserve price of $10.587 billion for the airwaves. The 1695-1710 MHz band will be unpaired spectrum used for low-power uplink operations. The 1755-1780 MHz band will be licensed for low-power uplink operations and will be paired with the 2155-2180 MHz band, which is unencumbered by federal users, for downlink operations.

In most cases, federal spectrum users will have to exit the 1695-1710 MHz and 1755-1780 MHz bands or geographically share them with commercial users. In July, the FCC and National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) issued a 43-page public notice outlining coordination procedures for the AWS-3 bands.

The FCC and NTIA placed a nine-month moratorium on any formal coordination to let auction money flow to the agencies and give the government time to establish coordination portals. Hardy expects there to eventually be at least two coordination portals: one run by the Department of Defense (DoD) for coordination with defense systems in the 1755-1780 MHz band, and another, run by the NTIA's Institute for Telecommunication Sciences in Boulder, Colo., for coordination of the 1695-1710 spectrum, used primarily for federal meteorological-satellite data.

AWS-3 licensees will have to negotiate coordination agreements with 17 different government agencies regarding 2,500 frequency assignments, Hardy said. Federal systems employ AWS-3 frequencies for myriad uses, from nationwide covert video operations to control of precision-guided munitions. 

Further, there is a blanket of secrecy related to some DoD spectrum. A recently revised NTIA document on AWS-3 transition planning notes that many aspects of incumbent spectrum uses involve sensitive, nonpublic information that is redacted in publicly available transition plans. "For example, almost all DoD frequency assignments have restrictions on distribution which prevents their public release," the NTIA said.

According to Hardy, potential bidders for AWS-3 spectrum and their representatives can initiate dialogues now with federal agencies "to prioritize the movement of their assets." Despite the nine-month moratorium on any formal coordination, the FCC and NTIA "made allowances for informal negotiation to happen at any time," he added.

However, bidders need to realize that some DoD operations will remain in place indefinitely, Hardy said. For example, there are 34 zones for air combat training systems (ACTS), and two of those will not be moving off the AWS-3 spectrum anytime soon, if ever. The ACTS protection zones run from 285-415 kilometers.

In addition, Hardy noted that the aeronautical mobile telemetry (AMT) service has a 10-year spectrum exit plan, and AMT protection zones could run as large as 560 kilometers. The wireless industry is trying to work with the Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee (CSMAC) to shrink the size of the AWS-3 protection zones where possible.

For more:
- see this Comsearch/CommScope blog post and this post
- see this NTIA document (PDF)

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