GE reiterates vow to build private LTE networks if ‘meaningful’ census-tract licensing stays for CBRS

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GE expects its industrial and critical-infrastructure customers will bid on census-tract CBRS licenses. (Pixabay)

As the FCC potentially nears decisions related to the 3.5 GHz band, General Electric is stepping up efforts to make sure census-tract licensing remains part of the picture.

GE promises that it will intensively use the 3.5 GHz Citizens Broadband Radio Services (CBRS) band to bring the full benefits of industrial IoT (IIoT) to the public and the U.S. industrial and manufacturing sectors. Representatives of the company recently met by phone with FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly’s legal adviser.

GE is part of a cross-industry coalition—said to be the largest yet in the CBRS proceeding—that includes entities from cable, technology and equipment development, rural broadband, regional and rural mobile wireless carriers, industry and manufacturing, critical infrastructure and enterprise solutions.

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GE says if the FCC retains meaningful census-tract licensing at 3.5 GHz, it expects to bid on census-tract Priority Access Licenses (PALs) itself and become a CBRS licensee in numerous instances. GE also expects that its industrial and critical-infrastructure customers will bid on an even greater number of census-tract PALs around the country to build out private LTE networks with GE supporting IIoT applications.

“There is no doubt that entities from the industrial and critical-infrastructure sectors will compete vigorously in auctions for census-tract licenses in order to obtain the spectrum necessary to support IIoT-related services and applications,” the company said in an ex parte filing (PDF).

GE says it has a huge economic stake in the use of the CBRS band as a springboard for the IIoT. It will partner with customers to offer these IIoT customers “connectivity in a box” in the 3.5 GHz band. “GE will provide these industrial and critical-infrastructure entities with IIoT technology and serve as a wireless system aggregator, using PAL spectrum to take full advantage of advances in inspection, remote control, and monitoring technologies, edge computing capabilities, and cloud-based Big Data predictive analytics,” the company said.

RELATED: Google, GE, Ruckus and others press for their CBRS licensing framework

The FCC in 2015 adopted licensing rules based on census tracts, which larger mobile carriers consider to be too small. They petitioned the FCC to review the rules, and O’Rielly was appointed the point person in the proceeding, meeting with stakeholders in hopes of reaching a compromise.

CTIA and the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) presented a compromise in April that would have the FCC license PALs using Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) in the top 306 Cellular Market Areas (CMAs) and use county-based geographic area licenses in the remaining 428 CMAs. The GE-led coalition’s proposed framework includes a component for MSA-sized PAL licenses, but it still insists on the census tracts.

It’s not clear when the FCC will be ready to put the 3.5 GHz CBRS item on an open meeting agenda, but a nearby spectrum band is expected to be taken up at the July meeting. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said he will put up for a vote a proposal to make more intensive use of the 500 MHz of 3.7-4.2 GHz band, known as the C-band, spectrum, including seeking additional input on making it available for commercial terrestrial use.  

GE, which faces significant challenges these days, has needed to diversify. On Thursday, the company introduced Airxos, which basically will be a traffic cop for drones, working with government agencies, regional aviation authorities and private sector operators to manage their unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). The new company already  is working with the cities of San Diego and Memphis and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma in pilot programs arranged through the federal government.