T-Mobile’s revised plan for C-Band a ‘fatally flawed’ gambit: CBA

boxing glove
The C-Band Alliance alleges that slowing the deployment of mid-band spectrum plays to T-Mobile's advantage. (Pixabay)

It sounds as though the C-Band Alliance (CBA) is taking the gloves off in its latest assessment of T-Mobile’s revised proposal to use an FCC-led incentive auction to clear between 300-500 MHz of C-Band spectrum, but the gloves already came off months ago.

In CBA’s scathing review of T-Mobile’s latest proposal for how the FCC should deal with satellite incumbents in the C-Band, it alleges that T-Mobile’s plan would violate the Communications Act—a situation that alone makes the plan “fatally flawed,” according to the CBA’s March 7 filing (PDF). But it also found other flaws.

The CBA—comprised of foreign companies Intelsat, SES, Eutelsat Communications and Telesat—has been proposing to sell 200 MHz of C-band spectrum to wireless operators, saying it’s the fastest way to make this mid-band spectrum available for 5G. Others, however, said what it’s proposing is likely to lead to more delays because it’s unclear a private sale of this nature would pass legal muster.

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Alternatively, the “un-carrier’s” latest proposal, offered in February (PDF), includes a mechanism through which satellite earth station registrants can participate in an FCC-led incentive auction.

RELATED: T-Mobile, C-Band Alliance trade punches in battle over midband spectrum

"There are fundamental problems with regards to the involvement of earth stations in an FCC-run incentive auction for each of 416 geographic zones,” said Marcus Payer, vice president of Corporate Communications at SES, in a statement provided to FierceWirelessTech. “First, the Communication Act does not permit earth stations to participate in an incentive auction because they are not licensees with respect to the C-band downlink. And second, even if they were permitted to participate, it would be exceedingly complicated and create endless delay to have 17,000 earth stations in 416 geographic zones participate in auctions.”

Moreover, he said, “the idea to potentially auction different chunks of spectrum to different sets of participants in these zones would not only create insurmountable complexity and delay but also fails to consider the basic laws of physics. If a different amount of spectrum is cleared in adjacent zones, the 5G signals will not stop at the border of a zone but could interfere with co-frequency satellite operations in the neighboring zone. This could have a daisy chain effect on ultimately all 416 zones, of course, driving the amount of available spectrum nationwide for 5G operations to the lowest common denominator. The whole concept is ill construed."

The U.S. wireless industry has identified mid-band spectrum as a high priority as other countries have allocated the 3.5 GHz band, for example, for 5G. The 3.5 GHz band in the U.S. is part of a unique sharing paradigm called Citizens Broadband Radio Services (CBRS) and even though operators are interested in that, they generally see it as encumbered.

T-Mobile isn’t the only one opposed to the C-Band Alliance plan. Entities like Comcast have relayed their concerns (PDF) about the importance of protecting existing C-Band services for millions of Americans that rely on video programming delivered via C-Band. Comcast has argued for a “transparent FCC auction” rather than the C-Band Alliance proposal.

The CBA has accused T-Mobile of using delay tactics because if its merger with Sprint goes through, it will amass a great deal of mid-band spectrum with the 2.5 GHz holdings, and it would be in T-Mobile’s best interest to keep other mid-band spectrum out of the hands of rivals for as long as possible.

But T-Mobile has called the C-Band Alliance’s proposal to make 200 MHz available a “self-serving attempt to strip the Commission of its statutory obligations” and one that directs all financial gains to entities that not only don’t have the terrestrial rights they propose to sell but also didn’t initially pay for the spectrum.

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