CBRS a good guide for 3.45-3.55 GHz: WISPA

WISPA thinks the FCC should allocate the 3.45-3.55 GHz band with a similar sharing model and auction process as CBRS. (Pixabay)

As the FCC looks to open up spectrum between 3.45-3.55 GHz for 5G, industry group WISPA wants the commission to apply some of the same features for licensing and sharing that it used for the 3.5 GHz CBRS band.

At its open meeting later this month, the FCC will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that takes steps to make 100-megahertz of the mid-band spectrum available for wireless services across the U.S.

It’s part of efforts alongside the White House and Department of Defense (DoD) to allocate the key mid-band frequencies for commercial 5G services, operating at full power, without interfering with federal radar operations.

WISPA, whose members include smaller and rural fixed wireless internet providers, issued a statement Wednesday saying the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) framework offers a good guide for the 3.45-3.55 GHz band.

Louis Peraertz, VP of Policy for WISPA, stated its members would be eager to access the band to help continue delivering services and bridge the digital divide.

“Extending certain aspects of the CBRS framework to this adjacent 100 megahertz would be the most efficient way of putting this valuable spectrum resource to work for Americans,” Peraertz stated.

RELATED: FCC tees up 3.45 GHz proposal for September meeting

Among other things, the NPRM proposes a band plan and technical, licensing, and bidding rules, and asks for comments on alternatives. It also asks for input on the best way to coordinate between continued federal DoD and new commercial use; as well as how to relocate existing non-federal radio operations to the 2.9-3.0 GHz band.

The draft (PDF) released by Chairman Ajit Pai this week proposes aligning rules largely with the approach taken for the C-band (3.7-3.98 GHz),which is slated for auction in December.

For licensing, that includes offering spectrum in unpaired 20 MHz channels, with exclusive geographic licenses based on Partial Economic Areas (PEAs) and 15-year license terms.  

Rather than PEAs, Peraertz said it’s important that license areas are based on counties, as they were in Auction 105. And that any auction the FCC might hold awards licenses in 10-megahertz blocks, which would enable “meaningful access by a diversity of suppliers.”

The FCC’s auction for 70 MHz of 3.5 GHz Priority Access Licenses (PALs) wrapped up last month, with 228 winning bidders and $4.58 billion in proceeds.  

RELATED: Marek’s Take: Private networks, fixed wireless are winners in CBRS auction

Smaller, county-sized PALs were seen as one reason why the CBRS auction attracted a large number of new and non-traditional participants.

While familiar players like Verizon and Dish were big spenders, nearly 70 smaller WISPs were among winners and secured 3,600 licenses.

Claude Aiken, president and CEO of WISPA, in a statement outlining key takeaways called the auction “an important first for companies that have traditionally served communities through unlicensed spectrum,” noting members spent $100.4 million.  

There had been some skepticism that smaller licenses and the stricter power limits on CBRS could temper interest.

Aiken said the success of Auction 105 challenges the idea that large license areas like a PEA are the only efficient way to auction scared mid-band spectrum. The county-sized PALs “brought our members to the table, many of whom have never bid before” and many that have less than 1,000 subscribers.

“The experiment with small licenses works; it beat expectations,” Aiken’s statement continued.

Still, by some estimates, the C-band auction (Auction 107) could generate $38 billion or more, offering 280 MHz of mid-band spectrum without the same power limitations as CBRS and licensed as PEAs.

Like the neighboring 3.5 GHz CBRS band, WISPA also doesn’t think all of the 3.45-3.55 GHz should be allocated for exclusive licensed use.

RELATED: NTIA: 3.45-3.55 GHz ‘good candidate’ for mid-band sharing

“The proposed rules should consider reserving an adequate amount of spectrum within the 100 megahertz for unlicensed or ‘licensed by rule’ use to create a contiguous 250-megahertz CBRS band,” stated Peraertz.

For CBRS, the sharing regime includes three tiers of users, including federal incumbents, PALs, and 80 MHz allocated for third-tier General Authorized Access (GAA).

Aiken pointed to the investment in the licensed PAL portion, saying it helps grow GAA “by inviting the ecosystem to build the solutions needed to make the entire 150 MHz of the CBRS band useable for licensed and license-by-rule players.”

“This success should encourage the FCC to allocate the neighboring 3.45 – 3.55 GHz with a similar sharing model and auction process,” Aiken stated.