The FCC is taking the first step in reallocating the 3.7-4.2 GHz band, also known as the C band, by seeking comment for an upcoming commission report that will address the feasibility of allowing commercial wireless services to use or share the band.
The FCC was directed to do so via the Mobile Now Act, which was part of the 2018 omnibus spending bill that was passed into law by Congress. The act requires the commission to submit a report on the 3.7-4.2 GHz band to appropriate committees.
The FCC is seeking input on how to assess the possible impacts of sharing on incumbents in the band, how sharing might be accomplished and what other considerations the commission should take into account in preparing the 3.7-4.2 GHz report. The deadline for comments is May 31, with reply comments due by June 15.
Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, who has been pushing for a reallocation of this band, cheered the move.
“I have repeatedly called for freeing up this band for commercial purposes and I am pleased to see this important step forward in our process, as it will complement and not delay the Commission’s ongoing work on the matter,” he said in a statement. “I want to thank Congress for their leadership on this spectrum band, particularly Senators Thune and Nelson for raising this issue in the MOBILE NOW Act.”
In remarks made at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) last month, O’Rielly said various ideas on how to clear the band are now in the record, including a market-based approach filed by certain wireless and satellite entities. He said that option needs to be thoroughly considered, particularly because of the speed in which it could bring the spectrum to market.
And to make it worthwhile, a significant amount of spectrum, at least 200 or 300 megahertz to start with, needs to be made available in the band. A lot of entities are interested in the band, in part because it is near the 3.5 GHz band, which is being queued up for a unique sharing paradigm in the U.S. but is also a band that is used around the world.
One school of thought is the U.S. needs 100 megahertz of exclusive use midband spectrum per operator in order to do something significant in 5G.
In his AEI appearance, O’Rielly initially mentioned it might be good to start with 200 or 300 megahertz of C-band spectrum. But later, in a Q&A session, he also mentioned 400 megahertz might be desirable.
Intelsat, Intel and SES have been pitching a compromise that would make spectrum in the 3.7-4.2 GHz band available for mobile broadband use while protecting fixed satellite service (FSS) operations. Representatives of SES and Intelsat recently met with FCC officials, reinforcing their position that a 100 MHz near-term clearing target for terrestrial mobile use is what each operator can accomplish reasonably within 18-36 months following a final commission order while ensuring reliable service to their existing video customers.
“The ability to clear additional spectrum in the future beyond that amount, while still maintaining high quality video distribution and other services to customers, would be substantially more expensive and time consuming, but could be achieved if market conditions are sufficiently favorable,” the satellite companies said in an ex parte filing (PDF).