Execs: 700 MHz interoperability will unleash investment, jobs

Mandating LTE interoperability in the Lower 700 MHz band will drive billions of dollars in private investment and spur 100,000 new jobs over the next five years, according to a letter sent to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski by the Interoperability Alliance.

"Lack of interoperability is having a chilling effect on the market, investment, and network deployments," wrote the letter's eleven signatories, which represent operators and others with interests in the Lower 700 MHz A Block. Those include the Competitive Carriers Association, National Telecommunications Cooperative Association, C Spire Wireless, Cincinnati Bell, U.S. Cellular and King Street Wireless, which are demanding the FCC mandate interoperability before year's end.

"Collectively, we and other competitive wireless operators invested nearly $2 billion in private capital in this spectrum block," they wrote.

The letter notes that at the time of the 2008 auction when the Lower 700 MHz frequencies were sold by the FCC, Band 12 was the only band class for all of the paired spectrum in the Lower 700 MHz band, including the A Block. However, in 2008 the FCC divided the band class. Now Band Class 12 includes the Lower A Block 700 MHz spectrum held by small licensees, while AT&T (NYSE:T) holds Lower B and C Block 700 MHz spectrum in Band Class 17.

AT&T has said it worked with 3GPP to create Band Class 17 to guard against interference from Channel 51 broadcast transmissions adjacent to the Band Class 12 Lower A Block spectrum. The smaller carriers argue that without mandated interoperability across all of the band classes, device makers will cater to the needs of AT&T as well as Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ), which operates in Upper C Block 700 MHZ spectrum in Band Class 13.

"The lack of device interoperability has significantly hampered Lower 700 MHz network build out, device availability, and roaming. Without interoperability, substantial numbers of non-urban American consumers and emergency first responders will not be able to access 4G LTE networks," said the alliance's letter.

The FCC is currently exploring 700 MHz interoperability in an open proceeding announced in March.

The alliance urges Genachowski to see that Lower 700 MHz device interoperability is mandated, promising such action will not only drive private investment and hiring but also help smaller carriers deliver high-speed wireless broadband in rural areas. Their laundry list of potential benefits also says mandated interoperability will ensure maximum revenue is raised from future spectrum auctions because smaller operators and new entrants will have the certainty "that newly purchased spectrum licenses can be immediately utilized for deployment."

Further, the group also plays the public-safety card, saying interoperability will decrease taxpayer costs by enabling first responders to have more widespread and immediate access to LTE technologies. The First Responders Network Authority (FirstNet), charged with building and operating the LTE-based National Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN), has not yet set out a design plan for the project, but numerous parties have recommended that FirstNet contract out service in rural areas with wireless carriers. The NPSBN is allocated 700 MHz Band Class 14 spectrum.

The Interoperability Alliance, which includes competitive carriers, small businesses, trade associations and consumer interest groups, announced in September that it would pursue aggressive efforts to encourage the FCC to restore Lower 700 MHz mobile device interoperability.

For more:
- see this Interoperability Alliance letter

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