700 MHz licensee Vulcan Wireless, owned by Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) co-founder Paul Allen, is pushing the FCC to order interoperability across all paired spectrum blocks in the Lower 700 MHz band, contending that will stimulate interested parties to find a technical solution via the industry-driven standards body process.
Vulcan made ex parte presentations last week at the FCC regarding the commission's proposed rulemaking on 700 MHz interoperability, a proceeding for which was initiated in March 2012 on an issue A Block licensees have been touting since 2009.
The company, which owns 700 MHz spectrum licenses in the lower A Block in Oregon and Washington, contends the commission does not need to dictate a technical solution for interoperability but merely require that interoperability be achieved. "Under this approach, the commission would ensure that a unified band plan is adopted and ratified within a reasonable time period, not to exceed six months," said a letter submitted by Christopher Termini, an attorney with Hogan Lovells, which represents Vulcan at the FCC.
"This approach would also allow interested parties to evaluate the merits of various solutions to effect interoperability--such as by adopting the current Band Class 12 standard, expanding Band Class 17 to add the A Block, modifying Band Class 12, modifying Band Class 17 or through some other means," said Termini. He said that if a unified plan were not ratified within six months, then Vulcan would like to see Band Class 12 become the de facto standard.
Source: Vulcan Wireless' Restoring Interoperability in the Lower 700 MHz Band
Band Class 12 includes the lower A Block spectrum held by Vulcan and other 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 created Band Class 17 to guard against interference from Channel 51 broadcast transmissions adjacent to the Band Class 12 Lower A Block spectrum.
In an Aug. 9 filing with the FCC, Vulcan argued that opponents of Lower 700 MHz interoperability, specifically AT&T and Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM), have not provided sufficient proof that lower 700 MHz interoperability will adversely impact Lower B and C Block device reception.
In December 2011, the FCC approved AT&T's $1.93 billion acquisition of 700 MHz D and E Block licensees from Qualcomm without acting on the 700 MHz interoperability issue as Vulcan had requested.
Vulcan contends that AT&T's role as a dominant 700 MHz spectrum holder gave it excessive influence with 3GPP, as there are no large international carriers using the same spectrum. "This has led to unprecedented band class fragmentation and delays, slower ecosystem development and less consumer choice," said Vulcan.
For example, in September 2008 3GPP ratified Band Class 17 and Band Class 13--the latter includes Verizon Wireless' (NYSE:VZ) Upper C Block holdings--but 3GPP did not ratify Band Class 12, with a1 MHz guard band, until more than two years later, in December 2010.
Vulcan stated in its presentation that interoperability proponents have tested a combination of nine commercially deployed Band 12 and Band 17 devices and made field measurements on four Channel 51 stations to confirm that interoperability is technically feasible. The company alleges that Band Class 17 B and C Blocks "already suffer greater interference threats from each other" than what would be introduced from a unified band class.
Vulcan's goal in demanding interoperability is to ensure devices makers create products that will work on the 700 MHz spectrum licensed to small companies rather than focusing all of their efforts on the desires of AT&T and Verizon. In addition, 700 MHz interoperability would enable small carriers to engage in nationwide roaming agreements and prevent "incumbent carriers from skirting the FCC's voice and data roaming rules," said Vulcan.
Under Vulcan's proposal to the FCC, a six-month period to determine the means of implementation and standards ratification for 700 MHz interoperability would be followed by commencement of a base station transition period, during which all carriers would implement software-based upgrades to their base stations support interoperability across the entire Lower 700 MHz band.
Three months later, any carrier that offers service on any paired spectrum block within the Lower 700 MHz band would be required to offer at least one mobile device capable of operating across all paired spectrum blocks in the Lower 700 MHz band.
And three months after that--which would be 18 months following the interoperability order that Vulcan wants the FCC to issue--each device capable of operating in any paired spectrum block within the Lower 700 MHz band must be capable of operating across all paired spectrum blocks in the Lower 700 MHz band.
Vulcan's complaints regarding the influence of larger carriers at 3GPP have been echoed in other arenas. In June, C Spire Wireless filed an antitrust lawsuit accusing AT&T, Qualcomm and Motorola Mobility (NYSE:MMI) of manipulating the standards process for creating band classes in the 700 MHz band, which allegedly has prevented C Spire from obtaining suitable LTE devices and network roaming.
- see this Vulcan Wireless filing
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