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9 April 2018

Google pushes its own solution to C-Band spectrum wrangle in USA

Google has openly criticized the FCC’s management of the critical C-band spectrum debate, claiming a third of all FCC-registered C-band satellite dishes are abandoned and calling the US regulator to free up spectrum for a new fixed wireless service.

The tech giant has now weighed in with a potential solution which would apparently satisfy satellite, mobile and fixed wireless players – while simultaneously bashing the recent, similar plan from SES and Intelsat.

By opening up a 100 MHz slice of spectrum at 3.7-3.8 GHz for mobile 5G in densely populated urban areas, Google claims this may enable some level of global harmonization – in a “win-win-win” situation.

In a proposal submitted last week in collaboration with the BAC (Broadband Access Coalition), representatives presented the FCC with a plan in which satellite operators compensate by clearing a portion of band, thereby protecting incumbent FSS (fixed satellite service) providers. In addition, by making use of the unused FSS geography and frequencies, this will enable delivery of 25Mbps to 1Gbps services to rural and residential unserved and underserved communities.

The plan reflects the proposal submitted by SES, Intelsat and Intel two months ago, to reallocate one fifth of the full 500 MHz of C-band spectrum. However, Google and the BAC stated, “As a standalone proposal, the Intelsat/SES/Intel proposal will do nothing to close the digital divide – it will not facilitate broadband services to unserved and underserved rural communities.”

This is where the two plans, almost identical on the surface, take different paths. Google and the BAC intend to use the spectrum sharing proposal for providing access for point to multipoint (P2MP) broadband in densely populated urban areas, using the 3.8-4.2 GHz band, as well as outside densely populated areas, using the 3.7-3.8 GHz band.

The two proposals are not inconsistent with one another, according to the BAC, yet it criticizes the SES technical analysis for not being directly applicable to P2MP coexistence. SES assumes power levels that are higher than those proposed by the BAC and assumes antenna heights that are higher than what is required for many P2MP operations.

Google and the BAC claim that because not all earth stations use 500 MHz of the C-band, P2MP systems in 3.7-4.2 GHz could immediately provide gigabit-class broadband to tens of millions of Americans, without causing disruption to FSS.

“Co-channel sharing is possible by considering geographic and directional isolation between P2MP and FSS, operating in areas with a relatively low number of earth stations, and using directional antennas that don’t point toward earth stations in the area. If the actual FSS frequency use were known, frequency separation could allow 25Mbps to 1Gbps P2MP broadband service to as many as 120m Americans,” states the proposal.

Google’s vested interest is simply to bring the internet to more people under the control of more and more operators, be they fixed, satellite or 5G; either way, Google wins. SES, meanwhile, aims to protect the services it provides to US broadcasters, media and data companies – via the network architecture in which satellite operators have invested billions of dollars.

Satellite operators would profit from the sale or licensing of spectrum for P2MP services, but in bringing the internet to rural areas, risk introducing DTH TV subscribers to OTT video. SES and Intelsat are focused on reallocating 100 MHz of C-band spectrum to accelerate 5G rollouts, while safe guarding a diminishing satellite TV business in the US for as long as possible – to squeeze as much cash from the wireless operators as they can muster.

The likes of SES are pinning their hopes on satellites becoming instrumental in 5G network services of the future.

It’s worth repeating that although this is a US-specific issue, and any licensing or sale of spectrum hinges entirely on the FCC, a copycat situation could arise down the line in regions where the critical nature of C-band frequency to operators in delivering broadcast TV is higher, particularly in Latin America and MENA.

Intelsat actually raised the idea for the first time in early October, along with Intel, when the FCC caused commotion among the satellite community with its plans to get better use out of a portion of C-band spectrum from 3.7 GHz to 4.2 GHz. SES then jumped on board, a controversial move considering the Luxembourg-based fleet operator branded Intelsat a traitor not long before.

Importantly, the majority of the full 500 MHz of C-band spectrum in the US is currently allocated to DTH TV services and if the proposal is waved through, one-fifth of the spectrum will be reallocated to mobile networks for 5G services.

SES and Intelsat own 90% of this spectrum between them, now with Google proposing something similar, while simultaneously knocking the plan from the two satellite fleet operators, the FCC has plenty to digest.

The BAC was set up in June last year, co-founded by fixed wireless vendor Mimosa Networks, the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA), Cincinnati Bell, and the Open Technology Institute (OTI) at New America.