When SpaceX CEO Elon Musk gave his keynote for the Mobile World Congress audience in Barcelona this week, he did not specifically mention the 12 GHz band, even though it happens to be at the heart of a big fight between his Starlink business and 5G service providers in the U.S.
No, the 12 GHz band was not at the top of the list for “great subjects for a MWC keynote to an international wireless audience.”
But the 12 GHz band is posited by some in the wireless industry as a great opportunity for U.S. service providers to get their hands on more mid-band spectrum for 5G, albeit farther up than the C-band range.
The problem is, Musk’s Starlink wants a bunch of the 12 GHz band for its satellites while 12 GHz band licensees like Dish Network and RS Access want the band mostly devoted to 5G, and they’ve been at the center of efforts for years to free up the band for themselves.
Right now, the 12 GHz band is the subject of conversations at the FCC, which is gathering all kinds of comments about how the band should be used. The FCC asked for ideas earlier this year, when it formally kicked off a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) examining the 12 GHz band.
Currently, the rules allow for one-way communications. Dish, which holds the lion’s share of multichannel video and data distribution service (MVDDS) licenses in the 12 GHz band, has been urging the FCC to change the rules so that two-way, 5G communications will be allowed.
Earier this year, T-Mobile suggested that the FCC, if issuing licenses for mobile operations in the 12 GHz band, should conduct an auction so that new potential licensees have an opportunity to obtain the spectrum. It argued that the commission should not simply assign new terrestrial mobile service rights to existing licensees.
It also suggested that the commission could use an “emerging technologies” framework as a means to compensate existing licensees for relocating, including potentially using accelerated relocation payments similar to those used in the C-band proceeding.
In an ex parte filing with the FCC last week, T-Mobile didn’t repeat those points. But, citing the Communications Act, T-Mobile told the commission that any terrestrial mobile rights to the spectrum must be auctioned and not awarded to existing licensees.
The 5G for 12 GHz Coalition, which this week announced that it has added nine new members, declined to comment for this story. The 5G Coalition for 12 GHz has ties to an earlier coalition, the MVDDS 5G Coalition, led by Dish and RS Access. That group also lobbied the FCC to change the rules for the 12 GHz band.
As one might expect, T-Mobile’s most recent comments to the FCC were not well received by either Dish or RS Access.
“Any calls to re-auction MVDDS spectrum are unwarranted and conflict with FCC precedent and regulations,” Dish said in a statement provided to Fierce. “DISH and other MVDDS licensees already bought their licenses at auction and are asking to use the spectrum more productively. Forcing MVDDS licensees to relocate would only delay 5G buildout efforts in the 12 GHz band, in light of the time needed to address inevitable legal protests, complete a proceeding to write auction rules, and run an auction start to finish.”
RS Access acquired its 12 GHz licenses in 2018 through a private transaction on the secondary market. “We would oppose applying any framework to the band that seeks to negate the rights of existing MVDDS licensees,” V. Noah Campbell, CEO for RS Access, told Fierce.
Fierce reached out to T-Mobile and will update this article with any relevant comments from the company.
So far, it looks like a continuation of the feud that's been going on between T-Mobile and Dish for some time, despite their government-imposed entanglement. Dish sees T-Mobile as the "magenta Grinch" for its plans to shut down its CDMA network by January 2022, while T-Mobile says Dish needs to do its job and take care of its customers.