Google, Intelsat spar over C-Band

satellite dish
Cable operators, content companies and radio and TV broadcasters say they rely on C-Band (3.7-4.2 GHz) spectrum for video and audio content distribution. (Pixabay)

Sparks were flying almost as soon as the first keynote got underway during New America’s Open Technology Institute (OTI) event Friday that examined how things might unfold for the C-Band—the 3700-4200 MHz band that is being eyed for 5G.  

In one corner: The Google-backed effort to allow sharing in the C-Band while protecting incumbents. In another corner, a satellite industry proposal to free up 100 MHz for 5G within 18 to 36 months.

But those were just two sides represented by the keynote speakers: Andrew Clegg, spectrum engineering lead at Google; and Hazem Moakkit, vice president for spectrum strategy at Intelsat. There are many other sides as well, including video content producers, broadcast stations, cable networks, mobile carriers and rural broadband ISPs, to name a few.

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OTI notes that the FCC at its July meeting is likely to adopt a proposal to open a large band of satellite spectrum for mobile and fixed wireless broadband; the FCC’s draft notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) on the subject is expected to be released in late June.

Clegg, who delivered the first keynote, explained that the C-Band is used mainly by commercial satellite dishes receiving geostationary satellite transmissions. Local TV stations, cable TV and others use it for distribution of content. In the U.S., the C-Band is not used for direct-to-consumer services, he said, adding that Moakkit was already signaling his disagreement on that point from the audience.

RELATED: Google and other databases likely to make spectrum sharing easier

The dishes on the ground are receiving signals from geostationary satellites and the dishes are very susceptible to interference, he said, but there are mitigation techniques that can be used to coordinate a sharing mechanism in the band. Recent interest in the band comes from the rising demand for wireless broadband, its location next to Citizens Broadband Radio Services (CBRS), and the fact it partially overlaps a global LTE band, among other reasons.

It’s Google's stance that sharing in the C-Band can work for fixed wireless—not necessarily mobile—because a system can be engineered so the fixed wireless antenna will not get in the way of the satellite signals. In this scenario, beams are directed to homes they’re going to serve and engineered to stay out of the path of the satellite signals.

Moakkit emphasized that the approach put forth by Intel, Intelsat and SES protects C-Band services from interference; it’s a market-based approach that would have the satellite operators forming a consortium to work with the 5G operators to free up spectrum. They want to make 100 MHz available within 18 to 36 months after an FCC order to do so.

Moakkit explained that the satellite players “love 5G,” and are trying to accelerate it in the U.S. by offering up this 100 MHz of spectrum, but they don’t want anybody messing with their services. Intelsat has over 52 satellites serving the globe and its customers include all the key broadcasters.

Discovery, Time Warner, NPR, The Walt Disney Company and 21st Century Fox are among the broadcasters that use C-Band, and anyone who watches TV or listens to a radio uses the C-Band at some point, he said.

5G is a race, and “we want to make sure this spectrum gets into the hands of 5G as fast as possible,” he said.

He also disputed allegations that the C-Band spectrum as it currently sits is under-used; “this could not be farther from the truth,” he said. Granted, the signal is weak on the way back from the satellite, but there are critical services in the band that have to be protected. The satellite industry proposal would avoid bureaucracy and the regulatory battle that would ensue under some other scenario, according to Moakkit.

T-Mobile’s director of spectrum policy Chris Wieczorek was among the panelists who participated in a round table after the keynotes; he pointed out the swiftness of the “uncarrier’s” repurposing of spectrum and buildout of 600 MHz spectrum after the incentive auction. “We’re spending more money and putting spectrum to use much quicker,” he said, noting that repurposing spectrum requires incentives.

The panel, which included representatives of the American Cable Association (ACA), SES, NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association and Mimosa Networks, raised all sorts of questions about how any proposal for the C-Band would work in a practical sense.

As if on cue, the American Cable Association, NPR, National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and NCTA-The Internet & Television Association on Friday filed a list of questions (PDF) they hope the FCC will include in the draft NPRM.

Much of the programming that Americans enjoy on television and on the radio, at one point or another, travels on the 3.7-4.2 GHz band, they said. Video content received using C-Band spectrum reaches over 100 million American households (including 51.9 million cable video customers) and public radio content reaches over 42 million Americans each week.

The filing asks for details on:

  • How the various proposals would work as a technical matter, while enabling services that rely on C-band to continue without interruption or technological constraint
  • The impact of the proposals on the quality and cost of programming delivered to Americans as well as the day-to-day operations and costs to existing C-band users
  • How C-Band users will be compensated if the proposals result in additional costs