T-Mobile counters C-Band Alliance proposal with auction-based approach for 3.7-4.2 GHz

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T-Mobile is proposing that the commission auction the band on a Partial Economic Area basis. (FierceWireless)

The government may be doing the right thing by proposing to use the 3.7-4.2 GHz band for terrestrial services, but T-Mobile says it has a better idea for how the band should be made available for 5G services.

The commission is pondering a proposal by the C-Band Alliance—as well as plenty of other commentators—to repurpose the 3.7-4.2 GHz band, also referred to as the C-Band, for 5G. With the C-Band Alliance proposal, the four major satellite operators currently using the spectrum would make it available in a market-based approach, freeing a portion of the band for terrestrial 5G in 18-36 months following the adoption of a final FCC order.

However, that means the money for the spectrum will not be going to the U.S. Treasury, where it usually ends up going through the auction process, and T-Mobile notes that its proposal would provide taxpayers with compensation.

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Under T-Mobile’s market-based auction-phased proposal, all the satellite licensees would be on the sell side and potential wireless providers would be the buyers. With each successive phase of the auction, decreasing amounts of spectrum would be made available until the commission reaches a minimum amount of spectrum available for terrestrial networks.

T-Mobile is recommending the FCC set the floor at 300 megahertz in most areas, with satellite operators able to retain 200 megahertz for themselves. In certain locations defined by satellite operators, outside of major metro areas, satellite operators would only be required to make 200 megahertz available and could retain 300 megahertz for satellite operations.

In contrast, T-Mobile pointed out, the C-Band Alliance has only committed to making 180 megahertz of the 3.7-4.2 GHz band available for mobile broadband, which is less that what is required to meet wireless broadband needs.

“T-Mobile’s proposal combines true free market mechanisms with the Commission’s auction processes to present satellite licensees and potential terrestrial providers with a fully transparent way to determine the value of the 3.7-4.2 GHz band, backstopped with Commission rules that will result in transition of the band,” the operator told the commission (PDF). “T-Mobile’s proposal would also allow both incumbents and taxpayers to share in the auction-generated revenues.”

T-Mobile also reiterated that it disagrees with requests to designate some or all of the 3.7-4.2 GHz band for point-to-multipoint (P2MP) operations, as some Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) have proposed to better serve rural areas. Instead, if P2MP providers want to secure use of the band, T-Mobile said they can participate in the type of auction that it is proposing.

The operator argued that its proposal combines attractive features of the satellite providers’ approach while overcoming some of its limitations.

RELATED: FCC moves ahead on 3.7-4.2 GHz order seeking more details

The first phase of T-Mobile’s plan would be a forward auction for licenses for all 500 megahertz of spectrum in each geographic area. T-Mobile wants the commission to auction the band on a Partial Economic Area (PEA) basis, but the auction would also include a limited number of license areas—rural locations defined by the satellite consortium as contiguous areas but not necessarily full PEAs—within which satellite operations could be protected from terrestrial wireless operations.

T-Mobile went into further detail on how it plans to handle the spectrum auction, including a final phase that would include a forward auction in its 89-page filing. Basically, it said its proposal would produce better results for mobile broadband providers and taxpayers.

“While satellite operators secured their spectrum at no cost, they will likely realize enormous returns from the sale of their spectrum," T-Mobile stated. "This result is unlike, for example, the broadcast incentive auction in which broadcasters received payment and taxpayers realized the benefit from the sale of the spectrum that reflected the enhanced transmission rights.”

U.S. Cellular is also urging (PDF) the FCC to use an auction-based mechanism to maximize the amount of spectrum in the band that can be reallocated for terrestrial wireless broadband services. It wants to see that carriers of all sizes will have a reasonable opportunity to acquire rights to the spectrum.