The FCC’s draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) seeking public comment on new ways to use the 3.7-4.2 GHz band for terrestrial wireless services received praise from industry, including satellite players backing an industry-based solution to make spectrum available for 5G.
The proposed NPRM (PDF), which the commission will vote on at its July 12 meeting, looks at ways to use the midband spectrum for things like 5G and IoT. Satellite companies currently use the band and say they are only able to make about 100 MHz of spectrum available for 5G, which is just a slice of the 500 MHz in the band. Customers of the satellite companies, which include the likes of NPR and Comcast, use the band to deliver programming.
The Broadband Access Coalition, including the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) and Open Technology Institute (OTI), a year ago filed a petition for rulemaking that called for a new, licensed, point-to-multipoint (P2MP) fixed wireless service in the 3.7-4.2 GHz band. The coalition’s proposal would enable gigabit and near-gigabit broadband service in rural and underserved areas and protect incumbents from harmful interference.
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WISPA applauded the FCC’s latest move toward enabling shared use of the 3.7-4.2 GHz airwaves and noted that the FCC is requiring Fixed Satellite Service (FSS) earth stations and space stations to provide a clearer understanding of their operations. The FCC is trying to collect additional information about where earth stations are located and operating.
“The FCC is moving in the right direction on the C Band,” said WISPA President Claude Aiken in a statement. “Unlocking this spectrum for fixed wireless use would expand broadband access and competition for millions of rural Americans who lack choices today. If we get this right, we could quickly see more gigabit fixed wireless in rural America.”
Michael Calabrese, director, Wireless Future Program at New America's OTI, called the draft NPRM “a very positive first step in leveraging this underutilized spectrum as infrastructure to narrow the rural broadband gap.” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is “wisely seeking a balanced policy that opens unused capacity across the entire 500 megahertz for both fixed and mobile wireless operators, while not disrupting its current use for video distribution,” he said.
“Opening at least the top portion of the band for high-capacity fixed wireless can boost rural broadband almost immediately, whereas mobile use of even the bottom 100 megahertz will take years,” Calabrese added.
The draft NPRM contemplates various ways to free up the spectrum, including an incentive auction type approach and a market-based approach that the satellite industry proffered. Intelsat and SES, the two biggest satellite players in the C-Band, are advocating for a consortium-based approach that could release 100 MHz of the spectrum for 5G far faster than an auction process.
In a statement provided to FierceWirelessTech, Intelsat said it was pleased with the positioning of the joint proposal in the draft NPRM released June 21 by the FCC. “Our joint proposal provides a breakthrough, market-based solution to protect the quality and reliability of the services we provide to users while accelerating access to spectrum for 5G deployments,” Intelsat said. “We thank Chairman Pai and the FCC staff for their hard work and willingness to consider a different approach to this challenging regulatory issue. The level of interest shown by the FCC in our proposal encourages us to further our work to support all stakeholders, including our customers, in embracing our proposal as the most expedient solution.”
SES provided a similar statement and noted that the satellite C-Band ecosystem has played a key role for decades in delivering video and audio content and broadband services to millions of households, companies and institutions. The Luxembourg-based company said an industry-based solution developed by those who have invested heavily in C-Band is essential to avoid disruption of national video and audio broadcasts, emergency services and military applications in the U.S. that all depend entirely on continued access to C-band.
“We are therefore concerned that potentially allowing point-to-multipoint use on a shared basis in a portion of the band could overly constrain these important incumbent uses as well as complicate future options for the band,” the company said. “We remain committed to preserve and protect the quality, reliability and certainty of the wide range of incumbent C-band satellite services in the U.S. while clearing a certain portion of the spectrum to terrestrial mobile operators.”
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Although it’s expected that all wireless carriers will be interested in gaining more midband spectrum, analysts at Cowen and Company in a research note Friday identified Verizon as the most likely candidate to acquire it in this band considering its financial resources, current spectrum portfolio and strategy vision. AT&T already has WCS spectrum it is currently deploying as part of a program with FirstNet, and T-Mobile has its hands full with Sprint, where it would acquire 2.5 GHz spectrum, the analysts noted.
Regarding Verizon, “the carrier currently lacks ‘mid-band’ spectrum that it can dedicate to 5G (currently owning PCS and AWS tied up for LTE but it will eventually refarm). Also, with no large acquisitions to speak of, the carrier also has a superior balance sheet over other carriers. Lastly, we’d point out that the recent Verizon CEO succession plan: while historically we’d argue Verizon would have promoted current COO John Stratton as the natural replacement, the selection of CTO Hans Vestberg in our view reflects a company with aspirations to shift away from its legacy way of doing things and towards a more dynamically centered strategy around technology and more specifically 5G,” the analysts wrote.