T-Mobile CTO: 1755-1780 MHz is prime spectrum for LTE

BARCELONA, Spain--Freeing up the 1755-1780 MHz block through spectrum sharing will not only aid U.S. mobile operators that desperately need additional frequencies for mobile broadband but it will also aid spectrum harmonization efforts across the Americas, said Neville Ray, T-Mobile USA CTO.

T-Mobile and other industry operators are working to convince the FCC and National Telecommunications and Information Administration to find a way to open up the 1755-1780 MHz band, pair it with the current AWS-3 block (2155-2580 MHz) and put it up for auction.

"Spectrum scarcity is a huge issue. This AWS spectrum block that we're talking about here, AWS-3, is prime spectrum. Everybody's deploying LTE in AWS today. We have deployed HSPA+ and we have LTE coming on in that band," said Ray, who is also chairman of industry group 4G Americas.

He noted that AT&T and Verizon Wireless have also slated AWS for LTE deployments. Further, CITEL-- the Inter-American Telecommunication Commission formed as an entity of the Organization of American States--has designated the full 1700 MHz band for mobile broadband use. The band has "international and America-wide harmonization opportunities," said Ray.

The FCC previously auctioned off 1710-1755 MHz paired with 2110-2155 MHz but held back 1755-1780 MHz, which is encumbered by DoD and other government users, and 2155-2180 MHz.

The 2155-2180 MHz band, which operators want to see paired with the 1755-1780 band for FDD LTE use, is already cleared. "It's sitting in the FCC cupboard, ready to go," said Chris Pearson, 4G Americas president, who joined Ray to speak with FierceBroadbandWireless at the Mobile World Congress.

Pearson said other countries in the Americas have said they will follow the U.S. lead should the country open up 1710-1755 MHz/2110-2155 for mobile broadband. "It's a really critical band for the U.S. wireless industry, and it'll be a critical band for the rest of the Americas," he said.

4G Americas last week sent a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and NTIA Administrator Lawrence Strickling to urge faster movement on opening up the spectrum. The so-called Spectrum Act that was included in the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 specified that the 2155-2180 MHz band be auctioned by Feb. 22, 2015. The trade group urged the FCC to confirm plans to pair that band with the 1755-1780 MHz band as operators have requested.

The letter noted that the FCC is required to notify NTIA 18 months prior to any spectrum auction. "Eighteen months from today is August 2014--which would not provide the commission much time to conduct an auction and license the spectrum by February 2015," said 4G Americas.

Auction proceeds from this paired spectrum were expected by the Brattle Group in 2011 to bring in $12 billion in gross revenue for the U.S. Treasury, though $4 billion would need to be dedicated to the cost of clearing the lower band of spectrum.

On Aug. 14, 2012, the FCC granted T-Mobile's request for special temporary authority (STA) to test the suitability of mobile broadband services in the 1755-1780 MHz band. AT&T (NYSE:T) and Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) are also involved in the testing effort.

"It's an industry initiative to really explore and push on spectrum-sharing opportunities, which we absolutely believe is a path to go for the industry," said Ray. A leading option is to shrink the exclusion zones on military installations to make more spectrum available for mobile broadband under a geographical sharing scheme.

"I'm not sure at which point in time we'll see definitive results come from the testing. A lot of the results are somewhat classified," he said. "We'll know more as we exit the quarter and have a better view of time lines."

Results from the tests are expected to be made publicly available through the Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee (CSMAC), an advisory body that assists the NTIA on a broad range of spectrum policy issues.

This is not the first time T-Mobile has been involved in testing the band. Back in 2010, T-Mobile completed an eight-city spectrum-interference study on the 1755-1780 MHz frequencies.

Ray and Pearson they would like to see spectrum sharing initiated in the band on a temporary basis to open up the frequencies for mobile broadband. In time, however, the incumbent government users could be shifted to other spectrum, freeing the band totally for commercial use.

Ray is hopeful that the spectrum-sharing tests will bear fruit. "I cannot believe at the end of this that we would walk and say that the entire 25 MHz is not useable," he said.  

Last month, AT&T and Verizon Wireless joined T-Mobile in inking an agreement with the DoD to explore the possibility of sharing the 95 MHz of spectrum in the broader 1755-1850 MHz band that is currently used by the Pentagon and other federal agencies.

For more:
- see this 4G Americas letter (PDF)

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