Qualcomm, Gogo continue clash over in-flight spectrum rules

It's been years in the making, and Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) continues to urge the FCC to issue a Report and Order establishing the Next Generation Air-Ground service in the 14.0-14.5 GHz band "as soon as possible," according to an FCC filing. There's just one problem: Gogo.

The in-flight wireless services provider supports the concept of an auction for air-ground services, but it disagrees on how it should be done. Gogo wants the commission to divide the proposed 500 MHz Air-Ground Mobile Broadband Service (AGMBS) band into three or more licenses for auction, saying that each license could provide sufficient capacity to offer a robust service.

AGMBS providers likely would compete on a periodic basis for contracts with aircraft operators, so offering at least three 14 GHz licenses for auction, with an aggregation limit of 250 MHz, would help ensure a competitive in-flight communications market, according to Gogo.

Qualcomm argues that it is more equitable and efficient to create two 250 MHz blocks so that each licensee has sufficient bandwidth. The company says that the upper and lower portions of the band require coordination with and protection of radio astronomy and TDRSS, respectively, and in certain areas of the Continental U.S. (CONUS) would impact the upper most and the lower most 125 MHz spectrum blocks.

In a filing last year, Qualcomm also explained that to support bandwidth-intensive applications to all aircraft passengers flying above CONUS, such as full motion video, a 250 MHz-wide spectrum block is needed. A single 125-MHz-wide license would not be able to provide full broadband connectivity to each passenger, and thus offer the kind of user experience that everyone is used to having on the ground.

Although it has been a particular thorn in the side, Gogo isn't the only entity lodging concerns. 

The Satellite Industry Association (SIA) last week met with FCC officials to discuss its concerns, including the potential impact on irregular FSS operations, the most notable of which are satellite launches. Such operations, while conducted under Special Temporary Authorizations (STAs), are essential to the safe deployment, testing and operation of geostationary satellites, the SIA says. Any Report and Order for air-ground mobile broadband secondary service must reflect the fact that these FSS operations, while temporary, "must be protected from interference from secondary users," the association said.

SIA noted recent announcements regarding plans to deploy non-geostationary satellite networks, potentially using 14.0-14.5 GHz bands, elevate the need to ensure that any new regulatory framework offers sufficient protections for the new satellite constellations.

The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) also is concerned that the proposal doesn't address operational and cyber security risks. The AFA wants the commission to bring together a range of government and industry subject matter experts and coordinate with them to assess the full scope of potential threats and vulnerabilities and develop appropriate mitigation. 

Qualcomm formally presented its proposal back in 2011. A proceeding was started in 2012 when the company filed a petition for rulemaking asking the commission to initiate a proceeding that would establish a new terrestrial-based, secondary status air-ground mobile service in the 14.0-14.5 GHz band.

The initiative has drawn support from the likes of American Airlines, which said the service would help satisfy air travelers' increasing need for mobile broadband connectivity while on-board commercial aircraft.  

Providing in-flight communications has been a goal of Qualcomm going back more than 10 years, when it used an experimental license from the FCC to demonstrate how its proof-of-concept picocell technology could make and receive phone calls while flying over Dallas in a MD80 American Airlines jet.

For more:
- see this FCC filing (PDF)
- and this filing (PDF)

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