The FCC will hold a workshop tomorrow to address interoperability across different band classes of the 700 MHz band. The agency is bringing together representatives from Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ), AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) and smaller operators such as Cellular South to try and hash out the issues.
The meeting, which does not necessarily indicate that the FCC is planning a rulemaking on the topic, is a major win for rural carriers. They have claimed that Verizon and AT&T are ordering LTE equipment that will not work with the band classes of 700 MHz spectrum they own, effectively shutting them out of the growing LTE ecosystem.
Verizon acquired most of the FCC's 700 MHz C Block spectrum (which lies in band class 13), and many of AT&T's 700 MHz licenses sit in the lower C and B Blocks (which lie in band class 17). A number of smaller operators acquired 700 MHz spectrum licenses in the Lower A, B and C Blocks, which lie in band class 12.
An alliance of smaller carriers called the Good Faith Purchasers Alliance, which is a joint venture among Cellular South, Cavalier Wireless, Continuum 700 and U.S. Cellular, has urged the FCC to require network equipment suppliers to build gear that can work across all 700 MHz bands.
Those companies that oppose the FCC mandating interoperability have argued that such a requirement by the FCC would dramatically slow the deployment of LTE technology in the 700 MHz band. Some have even said such equipment would be technically impossible to build.
One panel at the FCC workshop will focus on technical issues while the other will mainly look at commercial issues, though the two are intertwined. The technical panel will explore issues related to the current and developing standards for 700 MHz equipment, and topics will include the 3GPP technical standards for 700 MHz band, interference issues related to the broadcast use of Channel 51 and lower 700 MHz Blocks D and E, the trend toward inter-band carrier aggregation and technical challenges in developing a single upper band that covers band 13 and band 14. Those scheduled to participate include Bill Stone, Verizon's executive director of network strategy, and representatives from Motorola Solutions (NYSE:MSI) and Vulcan Wireless.
Later, the panel focusing on market issues will explore the status of the current and near-term market for 700 MHz devices, the ability of smaller and regional carriers to obtain band 12 devices at a competitive cost, and the effect of interoperability on promoting the public interest. The panel will include Stacey Black, AT&T's assistant vice president for market development; Michael Chard, senior director of business development for Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) CDMA Technologies; and Eric Graham, Cellular South's vice president of government relations.
- see this FCC release (PDF)
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