AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile forge pact to explore spectrum sharing with government

AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T), Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) and T-Mobile USA inked an agreement with the Department of Defense to explore the possibility of sharing 95 MHz of spectrum that is currently used by the Pentagon and other federal agencies located in the 1755 - 1850 MHz band.

The announcement comes as the FCC and National Telecommunications and Information Administration encourage spectrum sharing between commercial and government users as one way to meet Americans' seeming insatiable demand for mobile broadband.

Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) was not included in the pact. However, Sprint spokesman John Taylor told FierceWireless that the carrier will follow the group's work. "We're very interested in what results from this program," he said, adding that Sprint is in communication with the NTIA.

AT&T, which unveiled the agreement, did not mention Sprint in its announcement.

"I want to emphasize that we continue to believe that clearing and reallocating is the best approach to freeing up much needed spectrum for commercial mobile broadband use," wrote Stacey Black, AT&T's assistant vice president of federal regulatory. "The existing exclusive licensing regime has resulted in billions of dollars in wireless infrastructure investment, enabling the U.S. to lead the way in the global mobile broadband marketplace. While clearing spectrum for exclusive commercial licensing must remain the top priority, when that is neither time nor cost effective, AT&T supports exploring sharing arrangements. As FCC Chairman Genachowski has noted, it doesn't have to be an either/or choice for effective spectrum management." (Editor's Note: The links in Black's quote are ones that Black put in the original post and we decided to leave them intact.)

Black wrote that over the next two months, the carriers and DoD will conduct spectrum monitoring, sharing and simulation activities within the band to determine whether they can share the spectrum without disruption on either side.

AT&T said the tests will include low-power mobile broadband uplinks (base station receivers) and four uses identified by NTIA, including air combat training systems, aeronautical mobile telemetry, satellite command and control, and small unmanned aerial vehicles.

The testing will conclude at the end of March and the results will 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. Committee members include the likes of mobile phone pioneer Martin Cooper, former FCC chief engineer Dale Hatfield, and Harold Furchtgott-Roth, a former FCC commissioner and FierceWireless contributor. Interestingly, the committee's membership, as of June 20, 2012, includes regulatory and public policy executives from AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile, but not from Sprint.

Taylor, the Sprint spokesman, noted that Sprint has been a CSMAC member in the past. He said the carrier is currently working with the committee's working group, which is examining the potential for sharing in the 1755 - 1850 MHz band.

NTIA, an arm of the Commerce Department, in March 2012 recommended that the 1755-1850 MHz band could be repurposed for commercial wireless use. Last week the NTIA adopted rules for a technical panel that will "review the sufficiency" of spectrum band transition plans, including sharing schemes and moving federal users off of spectrum they currently use.

Last year the FCC granted permission to T-Mobile to test the concept of sharing spectrum between federal and commercial users in a small chunk of the band under discussion, the 1755-1780 MHz band. The CTIA has voiced support for the idea of spectrum sharing in principle, but the lobbying group is more focused on clearing government spectrum for commercial use.

For more:
- see this AT&T blog post
- see this TV Technology article
- see this NTIA page

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