T-Mobile skeptical of satellite industry proposal for 3.7-4.2 GHz band

T-Mobile 5G
T-Mobile argues that the 3.7-4.2 GHz band is critically important to support 5G. (FierceWireless)

As new details emerged last week over how satellite companies would structure their proposal for a reconfigured C-band, T-Mobile registered its concerns about how critically important midband spectrum is for 5G.

T-Mobile noted that the 3.7-4.2 GHz band is ideal for supporting 5G midband operations. For one thing, it’s next to the 3.5 GHz band, potentially permitting 650 megahertz to be used for midband networks.

However, it’s not crazy about an Intel/Intelsat proposal—which now has the support of SES as well—that calls for a secondary market approach to transitioning the lower C-band from fixed satellite services to terrestrial 5G use.

RELATED: Intelsat, SES propose joint use of C-band by satellite, terrestrial mobile operators

T-Mobile said even if incumbents want to engage in secondary market transactions, the limited number of satellite operators may result in monopoly pricing of the spectrum for terrestrial use. It suggested a hybrid approach for the 3.7-4.2 GHz band, using a traditional auction mechanism for most of the band and giving terrestrial rights to incumbents for the remainder of the band in exchange for clearing the auctioned portion.

“In order to more effectively begin the process of transitioning at least some of the band for terrestrial operations, the Commission should establish a band plan and conduct an auction for the majority of the spectrum in the band on a nationwide basis,” T-Mobile said in its filing (PDF). “The Commission may then permit incumbent satellite operators to use market mechanisms to retain or sell the remainder of the band for terrestrial use, conditioned upon their assistance in clearing the auctioned segment of the band (with clearing costs paid or reimbursed by auction winners).”

The carrier argued that the midband proceeding is critically important to support mobile 5G, especially when considering the 3.5 GHz band CBRS is “greatly impaired to support 5G services due to low power, licensing regime and sharing structure.” Given the constraints in the CBRS band, it’s now more important than ever to make the 3.7-4.2 GHz band available to support midband 5G as other countries are moving forward with more traditional mechanisms to make midband spectrum available for 5G, according to T-Mobile.

RELATED: T-Mobile: Smaller license areas in CBRS would result in inefficient use of spectrum

It would seem to have an ally in at least one commissioner who would like to see changes in the 3.7-4.2 GHz band. Republican FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly has advocated for opening the 3.7-4.2 GHz band for commercial wireless uses.

Speaking before AT&T’s 3.5 GHz policy forum last week, O’Rielly said the commission should, as soon as possible, take the necessary steps to determine the full extent of the use of this band and make sure the information that it has is correct. He’s pushing for the commission to release a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) this summer to further refine its options.

He referenced the recent proposal that the two largest satellite operators—Intelsat and SES—have come forth with to clear some of the spectrum and said it needs to be examined to determine how it would work and whether it’s a viable option. “We also should consider all the other ideas in the record, such as whether it is possible to clear even more of the spectrum,” he said, according to remarks posted on the FCC website. “In short, it’s time to take the next step to reallocate the C-Band.”

SES and Intelsat last week submitted further details (PDF) about their market-based proposal to free up about 100 MHz of C-band downlink spectrum. They are bent on protecting the investments they’ve already made in the band and are proposing to create a consortium of C-band satellite operators to clear and make available some spectrum for licensed terrestrial mobile service through secondary market agreements on a market-by-market basis.

They’re also proposing that they be compensated for reconfiguration and relocation costs.

Under their plan, the consortium would negotiate secondary market agreements with prospective terrestrial mobile service providers and then apply to the FCC for a coordinated mobile license authorizing the provision of terrestrial mobile service in the agreed-upon market area and spectrum block. In exchange for compensation, the consortium would clear protected incumbent users and contractually relinquish primary protection in the portion of the band covered by the agreements.