FCC to consider making 1,700 MHz of high-band spectrum available

FCC headquarters
The commission will consider spectrum bands above 24 GHz at its next open meeting in November.

The FCC at its next open meeting will consider an order that would make available a whopping 1,700 MHz of additional high-frequency spectrum for flexible terrestrial wireless use and provide 4 gigahertz for core satellite use. The meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 16.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a blog post that the decision to make more spectrum available would build on the 11 gigahertz of spectrum that the FCC made available for flexible terrestrial wireless use last year and would be a major marker in the United States' efforts to lead the world in 5G innovation.

RELATED: FCC OKs sweeping Spectrum Frontiers rules to open up nearly 11 GHz of spectrum

Recent filings in the commission’s proceeding on spectrum bands above 24 GHz indicate the tensions remain high between the terrestrial wireless industry and the satellite industry. Nearly a dozen proposed satellite constellations or projects are before the commission with far more ambitious plans than previous years. Not all of them are expected to come to fruition, but many satellite proponents believe 5G services also must include satellites.

At least one satellite executive spoke highly of the commission's draft Spectrum Frontiers item on the FCC's agenda. Mark Dankberg, chairman and CEO of ViaSat, said the satellite company commends the FCC for recognizing the importance of satellite broadband as essential for serving Americans no matter where they are, at home, work or on the move.

“Based on our initial review of the FCC’s draft Spectrum Frontiers order, we believe the FCC recognized the important role satellite broadband plays connecting critically-important applications - from providing rural service to bridging the digital divide to assisting our armed forces with advanced national security, cyber and defense communications,” Dankberg said in an Oct. 27 statement provided to FierceWirelessTech.

Others have yet to weigh in. In an Oct. 25 ex parte filing (PDF), T-Mobile USA blasted the satellite industry for seeking additional spectrum and proposing limitations for use of spectrum for mobile broadband. But perhaps even daunting is the notion that satellite companies could get access to spectrum without paying for it.

“Unlike terrestrial providers of broadband services, they [satellite companies] object to participating in auctions to secure spectrum rights. But dedicating spectrum for only one type of mobile broadband—satellite mobile broadband—is poor spectrum management,” T-Mobile wrote.

Verizon is also urging the FCC to reject efforts by the satellite industry to dismantle key aspects of the proposed rules, which would have a detrimental impact on 5G deployment. Verizon argued that the Spectrum Frontiers Order provided satellite companies with a “windfall” by creating interference zones around grandfathered and new earth stations under particular conditions.

A group of eight satellite companies, including Boeing, OneWeb and Hughes, submitted a revised proposal (PDF) on Oct. 19 saying they think it addresses concerns raised by terrestrial interests throughout the proceeding and strikes a fair and spectrally efficient balance between the needs of Fixed Satellite Service (FSS) and Upper Microwave Flexible Use Service (UMFUS) operators in the 28 and 39 GHz bands and provides a framework that is suitable for sharing in the 47 GHz and 50 GHz bands.

RELATED: ViaSat, Intelsat, OneWeb cite access to spectrum as big concern

Lawmakers during a U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation hearing on Oct. 25 acknowledged the rift between the satellite and terrestrial wireless industry as they questioned satellite executives about their businesses and outlook for the future. There was general agreement among the satellite industry executives that spectrum sharing is do-able.

OneWeb founder and executive chairman Greg Wyler said spectrum certainty is the No. 1 concern and that nobody should play around with spectrum as it’s the very foundation of people’s businesses. “If you went to Verizon and said ‘we’re thinking about taking back the 700 MHz, the 1.9, maybe’ … it would just halt investment overnight. Don’t play with spectrum,” he said. “This stuff that we’re doing takes seven years to build and tens of billions of dollars to do it at the scale we’re talking about.”

Editor's note: Article updated Oct. 27 with comment from ViaSat.