Valuable mid-band 2.5 GHz licenses will be unique for each licensee

Kara Graves, AVP of Regulatory Affairs at CTIA (L); Giulia McHenry, chief of the Office of Economics and Analytics at the FCC (R)(CTIA screenshot)

Speaking at a CTIA virtual conference today, Giulia McHenry, chief of the Office of Economics and Analytics at the FCC, said the unlicensed portion of the 2.5 GHz band “Is the largest contiguous band under 3 gigahertz; we recognize that it’s vastly underused.”

Last year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to adopt rule changes to the Educational Broadband Service (EBS) portion of the 2.5 GHz band, including dropping the educational-use requirement for licensees.

The order established a priority filing window for Tribal Nations to obtain unassigned 2.5 GHz spectrum for use in their communities.

McHenry said the tribal priority window closed on September 2. The FCC received over 400 applications from tribal entities across the country, and it’s now reviewing those applications. “Any remaining unlicensed 2.5 GHz spectrum will be made available by auction to facilitate the rapid deployment of wireless networks across America,” said McHenry.

She added, “Like every band these days, there are some unique features. Each license will be unique given the incumbencies that are there now. We’ll be offering overlay licenses at a county level.”

When the FCC decided to auction EBS spectrum, Chairman Ajit Pai said an overwhelming number of EBS licensees didn’t use the spectrum but rather leased it to wireless companies. “Indeed, over 95% of current license holders for our 2,193 EBS licenses today lease much of this spectrum to non-educators,” Pai said in 2019 a statement.

For this reason, the FCC declined to establish priority windows for educational institutions.

Since then, of course, we’ve seen the Covid-19 pandemic. Now, with thousands of students learning from home, schools that hold spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band are reconsidering its value.

RELATED: WISPs and schools take a fresh look at 2.5 GHz spectrum

Critics have blasted the FCC’s order on EBS. But the FCC says its new framework will give incumbent users more flexibility while providing opportunities for other parties to make use of the key mid-band spectrum. The order also enables EBS licensees to transfer their licenses to commercial entities if they choose to do so.

Other mid-band spectrum

On September 30, the FCC proposed to make 100 MHz of spectrum available in 3.45-3.55 GHz band available for flexible use throughout the contiguous U.S. “As part of that, we added a co-primary, non-federal fixed and mobile allocation to the band," said McHenry. "We established unpaired 20 MHz blocks for this band, which are intended to align with the C-band. And we are licensing on exclusive geographic partial economic areas.”

RELATED: FCC tees up 3.45 GHz proposal for September meeting

At today’s CTIA event, Paula Timmons, director of Federal Legislative Affairs at T-Mobile, said the 3.45-3.55 GHz spectrum “is really important to keep a steady stream of spectrum out there.”

Rachael Bender, VP and associate general counsel for Federal Regulatory & Legal Affairs at Verizon, today said, “On spectrum, mid-band is going to be critical for long-term 5G success. Moving forward on that rulemaking for 3.45 is really important. Beyond that, we hope the spectrum pipeline can continue in a collaborative way. Further repurposing of the lower 3 GHz would be a great step.”