Lower 700 MHz A Block licensees gain more time to build networks

Ongoing debate over interoperability issues in the Lower 700 MHz band has bought certain licensees more time to construct their networks.

The FCC's Wireless Telecommunications Bureau announced it is extending the interim construction deadline by six months--until Dec. 13, 2013--for all active Lower 700 MHz band A Block licensees that have an interim four-year construction benchmark deadline falling prior to the revised deadline.

Prior to the deadline extension, the commission required A Block licensees with spectrum in the 698-704 MHz and 728-734 MHz bands to provide signal coverage and offer service over at least 35 percent of the geographic area of their license no later than June 13, 2013, or within four years of their initial license grant if the initial authorization was granted after June 13, 2009.

Some Lower 700 MHz band licensees requested an extension of this Interim Construction Benchmark Deadline, contending interoperability issues in the band are impeding their progress by reducing the availability of a wide range of advanced end-user devices.

There are two distinct sets of 3GPP technical specifications for devices operating in the Lower 700 MHz band. Band Class 12 covers operations in the Lower A, B, and C Blocks, while Band Class 17 covers operations in the Lower B and C Blocks only. AT&T (NYSE:T), the operator that helped drive creation of Band Class 17, asserts the new band was necessary to prevent interference issues from digital television (DTV) channel 51 and high-power operations in the Lower E Block.

Since March 2, 2012, the FCC has been pondering a proposed rulemaking that would promote interoperability in the lower 700 MHz band. A spokeswoman for the Interoperability Alliance noted that in the 1981 Cellular Order, the FCC mandated all mobile stations be capable of operating over the entire original cellular allocation.

Regular FierceWireless contributor Roger Entner corrected a previous statement he made on the topic to note that "in no other spectrum band, with the exception of cellular band with the very first cellular systems in the early 1980s, is anyone required to interoperate, but since then such interoperability has only be undertaken when it was opportune for the spectrum owner."

Cellular had two bands--non-wireline A and wireline B. In the 1980s, the wireline B license was given away to the ILEC in the market, while the non-wireline A was awarded via a beauty contest process. "The cellular band has 2 x 25 MHz for 50 MHz," which was the entire original cellular allocation, he added.

In announcing the construction deadline change this week, the FCC said, "The commission is reviewing the issues raised in the 700 MHz Interoperability proceeding, and we find it is in the public interest to briefly extend the construction deadline for the Lower A Block Licensees."

Commenting on the FCC's construction deadline extension, the Interoperability Alliance said, "The record, now complete, clearly demonstrates that restoring interoperability in the Lower 700 MHz band is critical to consumers, public safety and economic development, and the Interoperability Alliance urges the commission to act quickly to deliver those benefits." Alliance members include C Spire Wireless, Cincinnati Bell, U.S. Cellular (NYSE:USM) and King Street Wireless.

The FCC noted it is not taking any action with respect to the Interim Construction Benchmark Deadline for Lower B Block licensees, and all requests for extension or waiver of the Interim Construction Benchmark Deadline filed by Lower B Block licensees remain pending.

For more:
- see this FCC document
- see this Phonescoop article

Related articles:
Entner: Forcing 700 MHz A-Block interoperability is not the answer
Nokia Siemens touts LTE win at U.S. Cellular
Nex-Tech seeks 700 MHz buildout extension, device interoperability
Execs: 700 MHz interoperability will unleash investment, jobs
AT&T to rural carriers: Seek LTE interoperability with Sprint, T-Mobile
AT&T: 700 MHz interoperability proposal unnecessary, unprecedented
C Spire sues AT&T, others for allegedly blocking its 700 MHz plans
FCC moves forward on 700 MHz interoperability and MSS spectrum rules

Article updated on Feb. 14, 2013, to include additional comments from Roger Entner and the Interoperability Alliance.