The Department of Defense indicated it will be able to relocate its operations from the 1755-1780 MHz band, a move long sought by CTIA and wireless carriers, particularly T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS).
In a letter to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration filed with the FCC, the Pentagon said it can largely move off of the spectrum "while ensuring no loss of critical DoD capabilities."
The DoD was lambasted at a House hearing last month for not providing more information about the costs of using less spectrum, and the Pentagon's shift in position is striking considering that it has long had concerns about moving its operations to give carriers more access to government-controlled airwaves.
Last week House members introduced legislation that would reallocate the 1755-1780 MHz band from government to commercial use and pair it with the 2155-2180 MHz band in an auction. Congress has already directed the FCC to allocate and license the 2155-2180 MHz band (known as AWS-3) by February 2015. The NTIA in March 2012 recommended that the 1755-1850 MHz band be repurposed for commercial wireless use on a shared basis.
Further, wireless carriers have been open to the concept of sharing spectrum with federal users. For example, the FCC granted T-Mobile US' request last year to test the concept of sharing spectrum between federal and commercial users in the 1755-1780 MHz band.
However, it's unclear how workable the Pentagon's new offer of a compromise will be. The DoD said that it will cost about $3.5 billion to move its operations out of the spectrum. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Pentagon plans to compress much of its operations into the 1780-1850 MHz band, and will also move some of its operations to the 2025-2210 MHz band, which is currently used by TV broadcasters. However, the Pentagon left many details up in the air, including a timetable for moving off the 1755-1780 MHz band.
"T-Mobile is very pleased the Defense Department has proposed a path forward to make the 1755- 1780 MHz band available for commercial use, along with NTIA's proposal to consider these matters as part of the FCC's rulemaking process," Steve Sharkey, T-Mobile's director of government affairs for technology and engineering policy, said in a statement. "While there are many details that need to be resolved, this is a significant breakthrough toward meeting the goal of licensing this spectrum, paired with 2155-2180 MHz, by February 2015. We look forward to continued collaboration with DoD, NTIA, the FCC and others to finalize the implementation details, including consideration of the relocation spectrum identified."
"I took it as a very positive step," Jot Carpenter, vice president for government affairs at the CTIA, told the Journal. "Getting them to put something in writing gives us now something to work from."
The NTIA said it would review the plan and was "very encouraged" by the move.
Others, however, said the DoD proposal falls short since it's unclear how the Pentagon would share spectrum with broadcasters. "At first blush, the DoD proposal doesn't seem to make much sense," National Association of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton told the Journal. "While we are not opposed in principle to sharing where it works, DoD has done none of the legwork necessary to even begin the conversation."
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)
- see this The Verge article
Sprint, AT&T and others cheer legislation to auction 1755-1780 MHz band
2155-2180 MHz band (could be paired with 1755-1780 MHz band) - Spectrum auction guide
The looming conflict over spectrum sharing
FCC to auction 1695-1710 MHz and 1755-1780 MHz bands as early as 2014
T-Mobile CTO: 1755-1780 MHz is prime spectrum for LTE
AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile forge pact to explore spectrum sharing with government