Verizon’s Straight Path acquisition target snarled in fight over 28, 39 GHz bands

OneWeb satellite
Satellite companies are doubling down on their arguments for millimeter wave spectrum and highlighting their abilities to deliver service to rural areas. (OneWeb)

A group of satellite broadband companies, including Boeing, EchoStar and OneWeb, is disputing arguments that Straight Path asserted in May regarding how the FCC should treat the 28 and 37/39 GHz bands as it considers rules for millimeter wave bands.

The broadband satellite group, which also includes Hughes Network Systems, Intelsat, Inmarsat, O3b Limited and SES Americom, challenges Straight Path’s argument that providing increased flexibility for the siting of satellite earth stations in the 28 and 37/39 GHz bands would harm the deployment of 5G terrestrial mobile networks.

Straight Path announced last month that it had inked “a definitive merger agreement” that will see Verizon paying roughly $3.1 billion in an all-stock transaction, ending an aggressive bidding war with AT&T for the company’s airwaves—something a group of short sellers at one point had argued were worth next to nothing. The move fortifies Verizon’s hefty presence in the 28 GHz and 39 GHz bands, which are thought to be ideal to handle 5G capacity needs.

RELATED: Verizon to acquire Straight Path for $3.1B, ending bidding war with AT&T

The satellite companies, however, are doubling down on their arguments for millimeter wave spectrum and highlighting their abilities to deliver service to rural areas, which traditionally have been a hard sell for cellular companies to invest in because lower populations mean fewer potential paying customers to support investments.

The satellite industry is already using millimeter wave spectrum to provide broadband to “every location in the continental United States and portions of Alaska and the U.S. territories,” the group said in an FCC filing (PDF). “Adopting more flexible rules can ensure that such satellite systems serve even greater numbers of consumers with broadband data rates that meet or exceed the FCC-defined broadband speeds.”

They also seized on the fact that Straight Path wasn’t able to construct a wide area mobile network using the LMDS spectrum that its parent IDT acquired from bankrupt Winstar.

“Now, of course, it is evident that Straight Path will never build a mobile network, wide area or otherwise,” the satellite companies say. “News reports make clear that Straight Path’s remaining licenses will eventually be controlled by a major wireless carrier. Each major carrier has already built out wide area networks using low band spectrum. It therefore seems unreasonable to suggest that these same carriers will use very high band mmW spectrum to duplicate or extend this coverage … mmW spectrum is optimal for increasing network capacity in high density locations already served by wide area networks, not for extending the reach of wide area networks to additional rural and remote communities.”

Given the near-uniform consensus that mmWave spectrum is optimal for small cell, high density coverage, “it is clearly appropriate for the commission to provide additional flexibility in the siting restrictions for satellite earth stations in the 28 GHz and 37/39 GHz frequency bands,” they added. “Contrary to Straight Path’s assertion, additional flexibility is needed to facilitate the launch and operation of additional and expanded broadband satellite systems.”

The reason large numbers of earth stations will be needed is to maximize spectrum reuse and meet user demands. The broadband satellite systems that are currently under development will reuse each megahertz of spectrum thousands of times over through the operation of large numbers of satellites that will each produce hundreds or thousands of individual beams to serve end users, they explained.

A separate gateway earth station will be needed in each region of the country for each reuse of the same spectrum. “Thus, limiting the total number of 37/39 GHz gateway earth stations in the United States to just 1,248 would drastically restrict the amount of spectrum reuse that is possible, to the clear detriment of consumers,” the satellite companies wrote.

RELATED: Straight Path aims to demonstrate viability of 5G at 39 GHz within 12-18 months

Straight Path CEO Davidi Jonas and CTO Jerry Pi have argued that the satellite companies are making unreasonable demands and putting 5G at risk in the sense that they’re driving toward a vision for 5G that essentially means 5G will be deployed in dense urban areas that function like Wi-Fi hotspots. Straight Path is pushing for a 5G vision where services will be widely deployed to deliver the promise of gigabit mobility and a 1,000-fold capacity increase to the American public.

Straight Path also said it agrees with terrestrial operators that have objected to a proposed use of a database to facilitate sharing in the 28 and 37/39 GHz bands. Such a proposal would add unnecessary administrative complexity and restrict how operators can deploy, operate, maintain and update the hundreds of thousands of 5G base stations and an even greater number of distributed antennas or small cells in their networks, they said.