AT&T asks FCC for more time to deploy smart grid services with Nokia in WCS C, D Block spectrum

AT&T (NYSE: T) plans to offer smart grid services in the unpaired WCS C and D Blocks it once hoped to use for in-flight Wi-Fi services, but it's asking the FCC for more time to do so.

The operator has long struggled to find ways to leverage its WCS C and D Blocks, which can interfere with adjacent airwaves used for Satellite Digital Audio Radio Service (SDARS) and Aeronautical Mobile Telemetry (AMT). AT&T said last month in an FCC filing that while the "long history of disputes in the band have largely been resolved," the C and D Blocks "remain encumbered by strict limitations" designed to protect SDARS and AMT.

But AT&T has been working with Nokia to develop what it called "a private, highly secure, high-capacity LTE network solution" for smart grids and related smart cities applications using the C and D Block airwaves. "AT&T and Nokia recently began to present this solution to utilities across the country and the proposal has garnered significant interest," wrote Joan Marsh, AT&T's vice president of federal regulatory affairs, on the company's Public Policy Blog.

The carrier said it won't be able to deploy its offering broadly enough to meet the FCC's build-out deadlines for using the spectrum, however. So it filed a petition seeking a waiver or modification of the deadline "to afford utilities across the country sufficient time to take advantage" of its offering.

"AT&T's proposal addresses a longstanding national priority, ensures users of adjacent spectrum are protected from harmful interference, and offers the best near-term prospect for making productive use of the C and D Blocks," Marsh wrote. "We look forward to working with Nokia, the utility companies and the Commission to ensure that this spectrum becomes a part of our nation's smart grid approach."

Earlier this year, AT&T announced its teaming with Nokia to offer U.S. utilities the chance to use a licensed LTE network, thereby avoiding interference they might encounter in unlicensed spectrum. In a related push, AT&T also earlier this year announced a collabroation with Cisco, Ericsson, Qualcomm and others develop a new framework for smart cities that will make it easier for communities to be more connected. The consortium will use three U.S. cities -- Atlanta, Chicago and Dallas -- as the first test bed cities for the platform.

AT&T's smart grid and smart city efforts underscore an emerging battleground in the IoT between startups and legacy cellular carriers. Smaller players such as Ingenu and Sigfox are gaining traction with smaller, proprietary wireless network technologies created specifically for IoT scenarios, while mobile network operators are using 2G, 3G and 4G technologies as they continue to develop LTE flavors that are optimized for IoT use. Thus, AT&T's plans for its WCS C and D Blocks appear to be a play by the carrier to offer a dedicated IoT network to utilities.

AT&T acquired the 2.3 GHz WCS spectrum in a series of deals that were all approved by the FCC in 2012 (AT&T also at that time inked an agreement with Sirius XM to prevent interference between the satellite radio company's broadcasts and LTE in the WCS band). The carrier in 2014 said it might use the spectrum to offer in-flight broadband services to airlines, but later that year it scrapped that plan.

For more:
- see this AT&T blog post

Related articles:
AT&T cautions that its WCS spectrum licenses in the C and D Blocks 'remain encumbered'
AT&T, Nokia partner to offer private LTE to utilities
AT&T begins deploying 2.3 GHz WCS spectrum for LTE
AT&T expects to start deploying 2.3 GHz WCS spectrum for LTE this summer
AT&T kills plan to use LTE in WCS C, D Block for in-flight Wi-Fi services

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