The deadline for comments at the FCC on freeing up mid-band spectrum for 5G, came and went and all the documents were filed and shown on the FCC site. The FCC has let off a bomb-shell, in particular with its plans to get better use out of a portion of C Band spectrum from 3.7GHz to 4.2 GHz.
The satellite community was noticeably against this process, and only Intelsat among the satellite firms, made slightly encouraging noises about being able to clear their use of it over time, given some compensation, for the good of all. Other comments to the press over the course of the week, put Intelsat in the role of a traitor to the satellite cause, reminding the FCC just how many ground stations and antennas were active in this segment.
The Notice of Inquiry from the FCC was issued in July, but comments are only published once the deadline for reply has passed. The FCC asked about three key areas of spectrum, from 3.7 GHz up to 24 GHz, isolating the 500 MHz from 3.7 GHz to 4.2GHz, which is used by satellite operators, some for broadband delivery, some from uplink to satellites.
The Notice also calls out the 500 MHz from 5.925 GHz to 6.425 GHz which is essentially paired with the 3.7 GHz to 4.2 GHz for satellite purposes (Earth to Space), as well as the 6.425 GHz up to 7.125 GHz, which are also under existing use for governmental radars.
The FCC reminded us all that it has been already active above the 24 GHz line, making 11 GHz available licensed and unlicensed for fixed and mobile use, as well as finding 18 GHz, above 95 GHz, for commercial use.
But the Notice has brought comments from the MVDDS 5G coalition which don’t include the specified bands, and one lone voice came back on an entirely different chunk of spectrum referred to as MVDDS or Multichannel Video Distribution and Data Service. Essentially this is an orthogonal ground signal which does not interfere with the 12.2 GHz to 12.7 GHz satellite to ground distribution signal used, for instance, for DTH. This spectrum has been in limbo for around 15 years, after it was proven that a ground signal did not interfere with the satellite signal. It is only licensed for one way video distribution, and a handful of experimental services such as one we discovered the other day , called Sail Internet in Palo Alto California, which uses MVDDS as the delivery part of an interactive high speed broadband signal for condominiums.
The spectrum in the US is owned for the most part now by Dish Networks, having bought much of its in bankruptcy proceedings, and it has been asking the FCC for the past 2 years to change its use to allow mobile two way communication, and it used this Notice to make its point once again. If the FCC was to make a move on this spectrum, it would 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.
The wider community comments were virtually unanimous suggesting that the FCC goes straight to a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to make at least 5.9 GHz to 7.125 GHz (some 1.25 GHz of spectrum) available for unlicensed use for things like WiFi (read WiFi and 5G) and possibly other protocols too, such as Bluetooth and ZigBee.
The lower chunk of 3.7 GHz could be used to extend CBRS spectrum by an extra 500 MHz, much of which is set to become unlicensed and potentially shared in the US, and hand MNOs there a huge swathe of spectrum for delivering the consumer benefits of 5G,. But its clearance is likely to be problematic, costly and need careful scheduling and planning. Most of the negative responses to the Notice came from satellite operators talking this idea down.
Intelsat went as far as suggesting that terrestrial providers could have its C-band spectrum as long as it got paid for the spectrum and the disruption.
The FCC has pointed out that the users of this spectrum have been slowly evaporating over time, and fell from 39,000 licenses in 1988 to under 13,000 by 1997 and is still falling and described fixed satellites use as “minimal.”
There was support from Qualcomm, Intel, Hewlett-Packard and many others for the moves, and a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking of some description is the FCC’s next step, potentially over the next few months.