FCC advances 12 GHz plan that sides with SpaceX over 5G

The battle that once pitted billionaires against one another is moving on.  

The FCC on Thursday adopted rules to preserve spectrum between 12.2-12.7 GHz for satellite services, rejecting calls to allow 5G two-way mobile services in the band.

Some of the personalities behind the proceeding are Dish Network Chairman Charlie Ergen and Dell Technologies founder Michael Dell, whose firm RS Access was in the same camp as Dish. Yet another billionaire involved in all of this is Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX and Starlink, but he's not in the same sphere as the other two.

Indeed, Ergen congratulated SpaceX during Dish’s Q1 earnings call on May 8, saying it was disappointing that Dish won’t be able to use the lower 12 GHz spectrum for two-way 5G mobile communications but he respects the FCC’s analysis and decision.

After lengthy study and a public comment period, the FCC decided to reject Dish and others' request to use the 12.2-12.7 GHz band for two-way mobile communications and instead keep it for present and future satellite services. It’s exploring ways to use the band for fixed and unlicensed terrestrial services.

The FCC signaled which way it was going with the 12 GHz band last month when Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel released the May meeting agenda. Last year, she described the technical review of the 12 GHz band as one of the most complex dockets at the commission.

Years ago, Dish and RS Access petitioned the FCC to update the rules for the 12 GHz band. More recently, they submitted technical studies showing that it was possible to share the band with incumbent satellite players without harmful interference.

But SpaceX resisted and held firm that Starlink needs the lower 12 GHz to serve its growing clientele base, one that lobbied on its behalf before the FCC.

The FCC also proposed policies that would position the 12.7-13.25 GHz band to support flexible terrestrial wireless use, including 6G services.

In a statement Thursday, the 5G for 12 GHz Coalition said it remains committed to working with the FCC and its engineering team to ensure that the 12.2-12.7 and 12.7-13.25 GHz bands are maximized to benefit consumers across the country.

Besides Dish and RS Access, the coalition includes INCOMPASS, Public Knowledge, Federated Wireless, Mavenir, Dell Technologies, Granite Telecommunications and more.

CTIA: More work to do 

CTIA also weighed in. In a blog post on Thursday, CTIA SVP of Regulatory Affairs Scott Bergmann said the FCC proposes to bring 500 megahertz of largely cleared spectrum to market for exclusive, full-power use, and while there is much work to do to make the 13 GHz band a reality, the FCC is planting the seeds for spectrum that will eventually play a key role in next-generation wireless services.

However, the 13 GHz is by no means a substitute for the core mid-band frequencies that the mobile services industry wants.

In many respects today’s spectrum is more similar to millimeter wave than C-Band or 2.5 GHz, Bergmann said. “That is why the lower 3 GHz, 4 GHz and 7/8 GHz bands remain key objectives,” he said, adding that recent studies have made clear that existing licensed spectrum allocations are not sufficient to meet surging consumer demand. 

“That’s why CTIA supports scheduling auctions for at least 1,500 megahertz of core mid-band spectrum for licensed, full-power commercial wireless use,” he said.