C-Band Alliance reiterates 200 MHz is the ‘right number’ at 3.7-4.2 GHz

satellite earth station
The 3.7-4.2 GHz band, or C-band, is used by fixed satellite services to distribute programming. (Pixabay)

In case there was any doubt whether the C-Band Alliance (CBA) is interested in freeing up more than the 200 megahertz of spectrum they’re already volunteering to offer, the organization’s head of advocacy and government relations made it pretty clear during a panel Tuesday that that’s not going to happen.

Mobile industry stakeholders, like Nokia, have pointed out that the real value of the 3.7-4.2 GHz band is the potential of offering 100 megahertz of spectrum per carrier, which is the amount that makes it most valuable for 5G. In the C-band, satellite operators have access to a full 500 megahertz of spectrum there.

But the C-Band Alliance, whose members include the four satellite entities currently using the band—Intelsat, SES, Eutelsat and Telesat—are only voluntarily offering up 200 of the 500 megahertz to mobile carriers interested in using it for 5G. That’s leaving a lot of observers to question whether they might be able to find more.

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That question came up again during a panel hosted by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF). One of the panelists, Colleen King, vice president of regulatory affairs at Charter Communications, noted that Charter is invested in both the satellite side and the terrestrial mobile/5G use cases.

RELATED: FCC moves ahead on 3.7-4.2 GHz order seeking more details

The C-band is important to its video business; Charter uses it for critical programming to serve millions of customers. On the other hand, it’s also very much interested in 5G and making sure that’s successful. The company—and the FCC—needs to know whether 200 megahertz is the right amount to be allocated for 5G and if that is the right amount, that it doesn’t all go to two of the major national carriers, King said.

Preston Padden, head of advocacy and government relations, said the alliance members have studied the situation extensively and CBA determined that it could free up the 200 MHz voluntarily within 18 to 36 months of a final FCC order while maintaining service continuity for their current satellite customers.

RELATED: T-Mobile counters C-Band Alliance proposal with auction-based approach for 3.7-4.2 GHz

“They don’t want us to clear so much that we have to move people to Ku, which is subject to rain fade, and they don’t want us to clear so much that we have to move people to fiber, and that’s why I say our clearing plan is a fact-based plan, that this is what we can do and still provide high quality C-band service to all of our customers,” he said.

Later, he was pressed again: If it turns out that wireless carriers offer the satellite companies more money than their “wildest dreams” and the satellite companies can buy all the fanciest satellites they want, how do they know 200 megahertz is the right number?

“The 300 that we would be left with is the minimum amount we need to service our existing customers with first-class C-band service when we have fully populated the orbital arcs that we are licensed to use,” Padden said. “There comes a time when you cannot put anymore satellites up there because we don’t have any place to put them.”

He added that the companies did the analysis with their customers, some of which are talking about moving to 4K and 8K, and they factored in things like expected improvements in compression technology. “We worked very hard to figure out how much we had to have to keep serving our customers, ’cause that’s our No. 1 priority and the answer is 300. So we know that’s the right number,” he said.

ITIF released a report on Tuesday that offers recommendations for how the FCC and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration can free up additional midband spectrum, which is deemed critical for the U.S. to be competitive in 5G. Report author Doug Brake, who hosted the panel discussion, noted that nearly every stakeholder across the communications landscape has an interest in the FCC’s 3.7-4.2 GHz proceeding, and everyone is eager to see what the FCC ultimately decides.  

The CBA points out that the C-band downlink is already extensively used to deliver satellite signals to licensed, registered and unregistered earth stations throughout the country. As of Oct. 26, about 16,500 C-band downlink antennas had been filed with, registered, or licensed by the commission. Video and audio programmers rely on the C-band to provide video programming to tens of millions of U.S. households; companies like Comcast and NBCUniversal use it to deliver programming, as well as entities like C-SPAN and NPR.

The CBA is also urging the commission to reject a Broadband Access Coalition proposal to add point-to-multipoint (P2MP) operations to the C-band downlink. The satellite providers would be happy to accommodate P2MP in the 200 megahertz portion, but the suggestion that full-band, full-arc earth station protections be taken away is not acceptable, according to Padden. While the satellite operators are giving up 200 megahertz of spectrum, they’re going to need full arc/full band more than ever in order to provide five 9s reliability, he said.  

The alliance is talking to anyone and everyone interested in engaging in secondary market transactions—that includes rural and regional players—and they’re talking about power levels, out-of-band emissions and other issues. At the same time, the CBA is engaged with FCC staff on these same types of issues.

While it’s a market-based solution intended to make spectrum available for 5G in the fastest amount of time, the decisions on how it all works will be up to the FCC. “The FCC gets to make the rules, period,” Padden said. “Full stop.”

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