There are disputes between the mobile and satellite industries over spectrum in many bands, and the latest to raise its head is in 12 GHz in the US.
Most operators see midband spectrum as the most important for early 5G roll-outs. It is higher capacity than bands below 2 GHz, and so better suited to the first-stage deployment pattern that many will adopt, using 5G to add capacity in targeted areas or applications, while retaining LTE as the wide area coverage layer. On the other hand, midband has fewer of the propagation issues of millimeter wave spectrum, and is a better known quantity for wireless network and device design.
The C-Band spectrum between 3.4 GHz and 4.2 GHz is perhaps the ‘beachfront’ option for early 5G, but in the US, there are sharp eyes being cast on 12 GHz too (as well as some of the world’s most advanced work on millimeter wave bands like 28 GHz and 39 GHz).
In 12 GHz, mainly owned by Dish Network, the MVDDS 5G Coalition is lobbying the FCC to make this a 5G band, while satellite players insist they need it more urgently. It originally filed a petition for rulemaking 18 months ago, urging the regulator to remove constraints on the 12.2-12.7 GHz band, which prevent it being used for mobile broadband.
The debate is now coming to a head, with OneWeb and other members of the Satellite Alliance insisting 5G spectrum must not be achieved by reallocating satellite in 12 GHz, or making it a secondary user.
The 12 GHz spectrum was originally allocated for MVDDS (Multichannel Video Distribution and Data Service) but has been in limbo for about 15 years. Essentially this is an orthogonal ground signal which does not interfere with the 12.2-12.7 GHz satellite-to-ground distribution signal used, for instance, for DTH satellite TV. It is only licensed for one-way video distribution, and a handful of experimental services are in operation, such as one called Sail Internet in Palo Alto, California, which uses MVDDS as the delivery part of an interactive high speed broadband signal for condominiums.
Most of this spectrum is now owned by Dish Networks, which bought much of it in bankruptcy proceedings, and has been asking the FCC for the past two years to change its use to allow mobile two-way communication. If the FCC were to make a move on this spectrum, it could change the Dish stock valuation overnight, as it would own much of a 500 MHz slice of spectrum ready for 5G, but there remain interference concerns and such a move is unlikely.
Nevertheless, the Coalition keeps trying, and most recently responded to OneWeb’s latest argument that the FCC should “turn its back on the 12 GHz Band as a source of important terrestrial spectrum to support 5G.” The MVDDS coalition agreed, in its filing, that the 12 GHz band has not been put to optimal use in recent years but says the regulatory restrictions – limits on power levels and a bar on two-way service – are the reason.
The Satellite Alliance, whose members include OneWeb as well as Boeing, Space Norway and Intelsat, argued that the 12 GHz band is not a suitable candidate for terrestrial wireless broadband use because satellite operators use it intensively every day.
“The DBS bands are filled with literally millions of receive-only DBS antennas that inherently are incompatible with a terrestrial mobile service,” the Alliance wrote in an FCC filing. “Moreover, satellite use of the 12 GHz band is increasing.” OneWeb, Space Norway and Boeing are planning to offer high quality broadband to underserved communities using this spectrum.
“The imminent deployment of OneWeb’s innovative, state-of-the-art NGSO FSS system will provide precisely the kind of two-way, low latency, high speed connectivity utilizing the 12 GHz band—including to unserved and underserved populations—that the Coalition can merely tout as a future benefit,” OneWeb wrote. “The implicit rationale underlying the MVDDS Petition—i.e. the 12 GHz band is underutilized—is even less compelling today than it was when filed more than 18 months ago.”