U.S. Cellular preps for C-band tests with Ericsson, Nokia gear

U.S. Cellular is asking for the FCC’s permission to conduct tests in the C-band frequency range of 3.7 – 3.8 GHz using equipment from Ericsson and Nokia.

The operator’s application lists an intended start date of October 16 and end date of April 14, 2021.

U.S. Cellular wants to evaluate operation, coverage, capacity and propagation characteristics of cellular radios in the C-band frequency range, which it says will help it assess C-band products for wireless 5G deployment.

Plans call for using two commercially deployed U.S. Cellular towers with mobile operations limited to the test areas in Delavan, Wisconsin, and Belvidere, Illinois. Delavan is about 45 miles southeast of Milwaukee, and Belvidere is part of the Rockford, Illinois, metro area, northwest of Chicago.

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U.S. Cellular, which bid over $13 million in the Citizens Broadband Radio Services (CBRS) auction that ended last month, is among those expected to show up for the C-band auction. Last year, U.S. Cellular’s CEO at the time, Ken Meyers, called for the U.S. to make more mid-band spectrum available for 5G.

Meyers, who has since retired, was serving as chairman of the CTIA board at the time. Since then, the FCC has set a public auction date of December 8, 2020, and teed up procedures for auction participants. The quiet period before the auction kicked in last week.

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Other wireless carriers are also pursuing C-band tests ahead of the auction. Verizon, which is expected to bid aggressively in the C-band auction, was granted permission earlier this year to conduct C-band tests in markets across the country; that authorization expires June 1, 2021.

Even though T-Mobile acquired a boatload of mid-band 2.5 GHz spectrum in the Sprint merger, it’s been heavily involved in FCC proceedings dealing with the C-band well before an auction date was set. It’s also conducting tests. In August, T-Mobile was granted FCC permission to conduct C-band tests in Houston, Phoenix, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Las Vegas and Belleview, Washington.