CCA: Any less than 320 MHz of C-band spectrum would be missed opportunity for 5G

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Satellite companies are willing to free up 200 megahertz of C-band spectrum, but terrestrial wireless players generally agree that's not enough. (Pixabay)

Several entities, including the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA), are urging the FCC to step away from the C-Band Alliance’s market-based approach for the 3.7-4.2 GHz band, saying it will just result in a windfall for satellite operators.

That jab is one of the arguments the C-Band Alliance sought to push back in its comments (PDF) filed last week. The alliance asserts that the benefits of its approach outweigh any perceived concerns about a “windfall” to incumbents, and its proposal is the only means of making C-band downlink spectrum available for 5G soon enough for the U.S. to win the race to 5G.

Satellite operators have access to 500 megahertz of spectrum in the 3.7-4.2 GHz, or C-band, and they use parts of it to provide services to entities like CBS, NPR and C-SPAN, to name a few. Known as the C-Band Alliance, the satellite companies are willing to free up 200 megahertz of this midband spectrum by offering it on the secondary market, namely to wireless operators that want to use it for 5G.

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Notably, CCA is pressing for a full 320 megahertz of C-band spectrum (including a 20-megahertz guard band) to be made available for terrestrial services, while the C-Band Alliance has said it can’t offer any more than the 200 megahertz that it put on the table or it will risk not being able to deliver 99.999% reliability to satellite-based service customers.

RELATED: C-Band Alliance calls T-Mobile proposal for 3.7-4.2 GHz a delay tactic

CCA said it continues to evaluate all potential mechanisms for making C-band spectrum available for flexible uses, but at this stage of the game, CCA still has significant concerns about using a private sale approach to repurpose the spectrum. “The record reflects widespread and legitimate concerns that a private process may not create fair opportunities for all interested parties to acquire this scarce public resource at competitive prices and could generate an improper windfall for incumbent operators,” CAA wrote in its filing (PDF).

CCA argues that the 3.7-4.2 GHz spectrum represents one of the only remaining opportunities to clear a substantial amount of midband spectrum for 5G; the shared nature of the 3.5 GHz band and limited power levels mean it’s not a genuine substitute for full-power, exclusively licensed spectrum.

The idea that the satellite players will get a “windfall” is shared by the Public Interest Spectrum Coalition (PISC), which reiterated its strong opposition to the C-Band Alliance’s proposal for a number of reasons, noting that it would amount to “a massive and needless give-away of public assets.” A private auction or negotiated sale would be an unlawful end run around the Communications Act; only a public incentive auction run by the FCC can ensure a monetary return to the public and avoid “unjust enrichment,” the PISC said.

Another area where there remains broad disagreement has to do with fixed point-to-multipoint (P2MP) use in the 3.7-4.2 GHz band. The Broadband Access Coalition (BAC) is pushing for P2MP in the band, while CCA and a number of others say that idea should be rejected. The BAC says fixed services have successfully shared the 3.7 GHz band with earth stations for decades, and the coalition’s proposal for sharing between fixed P2MP operations and fixed satellite service operations is not fundamentally different from sharing between fixed point-to-point operations and FSS operations.

Reply comments on the 3.7-4.2 GHz proceeding were originally due Nov. 27, but the FCC granted requests to extend the deadline to Dec. 11. Asked about the proceeding during a press conference after the FCC’s open meeting on Wednesday, FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said people have submitted their views and there will be time to see where the sticking points are or where they might coalesce, but it’s premature to make an analysis at this point.

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