Providence, R.I. – Industry and FCC representatives today mulled the use of 3.7-4.2 gigahertz C-band and other spectrum for terrestrial 5G services, with speakers citing both the benefits and challenges.
Discussions during two sessions this morning at the Competitive Carriers Association’s Annual Convention here touched on the 3.7-4.2 GHz, 3.5 GHz, and 6 GHz bands, among others.
As for the C-band, speakers at the second of the two sessions criticized the plan proposed by the C-Band Alliance, in which 200 megahertz of spectrum, including a 20-MHz guard band, would be freed up and sold through a private auction. The alliance has promised to make a voluntary contribution to the U.S. Treasury but has not specified an amount.
By contrast, the “5G-Plus” plan pushed by CCA, ACA, and Charter Communications, Inc., would repurpose, through an FCC auction, at least 370 MHz of spectrum, produce funding for the U.S. Treasury, and result in fiber deployment across the country, noted Ross Lieberman, senior vice president-government affairs for ACA.
“It’s been well-received. … We think we’re well-positioned in this debate currently, and we think there’s now a horse race,” he said. “We think our proposal, you know, gives us [an] equal chance at … being part of the final solution.”
John Hunter, senior director-engineering and technology policy for T-Mobile US, Inc., called the 5G-Plus proposal “a credible plan,” but he suggested that the FCC start with the premise that it will look to auction the entire 500 MHz band and then see if that’s possible. He said that fiber could also replace narrowband operations that currently rely on the C-band.
Will Adams, wireless legal adviser to FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, observed changes in advocacy in the FCC’s 3.7-4.2 GHz band proceeding.
“I think over time, you’ve seen more convergence or movement among the different advocates for the different plans,” he said.
For example, he noted that the CBA once proposed freeing up 100 MHz of spectrum, did not originally propose a contribution to the U.S. Treasury, and had suggested a “quick, non-transparent sale.” He added, “They’ve moved quite a bit.”
He also said that he didn’t “want to get in the middle of the fight,” but that any argument that fiber cannot reliably replace any C-band capacity may be an “unreasonable position.” Mr. Adams also emphasized that it is noteworthy that CCA, ACA, and Charter joined together to propose a way forward for the 3.7-4.2 GHz band.
In a statement today, the CBA said, “The ACA/CCA/Charter proposal is unrealistic and unworkable. Speed, certainty, and accountability for clearing are essential for success, and that is exactly where the ACA Connects proposal falls woefully short. It fails to account for the significant complexity of installing fiber all over the U.S., particularly in rural areas. It fails to involve those who are actually operating within the spectrum. It fails to assign accountability for a successful transition. And it fails to protect the content companies who serve nearly 120 million US households and who have said on the record that this proposal underestimates the complexity of installing fiber and challenges in timing, network reliability and cost. What consumers and industry need are 1) the quickest access to spectrum to enable 5G nationwide, and 2) the protection of the existing content distribution system used by nearly 120 million American homes. Only the CBA plan delivers both quickly and accountably. CBA’s plan preserves rural America’s access to the TV and radio they rely on and provides the opportunity for rural providers to bid on spectrum and build out 5G networks. That proposal is truly in America’s best interest.
As for the 3.5 GHz Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) band, Mr. Hunter said at the CCA show that while “there is a place for CBRS,” including for private LTE and industrial Internet of things networks, he said that it can’t replace the industry’s need for C-band spectrum, citing power and bandwidth limitations that he said make the CBRS channels less desirable. He also noted that spectrum sharing in the channels will be accomplished through spectrum access systems (SASs), which he called an “unproven commercial product”.
Mr. Adams called the dynamic spectrum use of the 3.5 GHz band “a first step” that, if successful, could be employed elsewhere.
As for the 6 GHz band, Mr. Hunter noted that T-Mobile has proposed a way to relocate some incumbents to other spectrum.
He also weighed in on a controversy involving the 24 GHz band dealing with whether the FCC’s out-of-band-emissions (OOBE) limits will result in harmful interference to weather forecasting operations in the 23 GHz band.
Mr. Hunter said that the FCC’s technical limits “are accurate. We should stay the course.”
He also said that some objections to the Commission’s technical rules, including from other nations, are not about technology.
“Bear in mind, as we go through the WRC process, that much of this is political, more than technical,” he said, referring to the 2019 World Radiocommunication Conference later this year in Egypt.
During the earlier session today, speakers also weighed the pros and cons of the CBRS band and other spectrum and discussed the challenges facing rural carriers in deploying 5G services.
“It remains to be seen how the SAS is going to work … and what sort of interference cases are going to come up,” said Kara Azocar, regulatory counsel-federal affairs for Alaska-based General Communication, Inc. Right now, she said, GCI remains “an observer of that proceeding” but hopes it can work.
In discussing GCI’s plans to deploy 5G services, she said that “we’re going to have to look outside the box.” She noted that GCI serves the urban markets of Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau, “but we don’t have any dense urban, which is really the key for 5G.” She added that it has chosen macro sites for 5G offerings in Anchorage, adding that it hasn’t found “a business case” for small cells yet.
Ms. Azocar noted that GCI partnered with Ericsson to offer 4G services in parts of Alaska using satellite technology.
Ms. Azocar also said that GCI uses the C-band for backhaul to rural communities and said the FCC should carve Alaska out of any reallocation of the band. It should do the same thing in the 6 GHz band, which GCI uses for terrestrial microwave service in the middle of the state, she said.
There are a number “of ecosystem models” for CBRS spectrum, including purchasing priority access licenses (PALs) and leasing spectrum, said Todd Spraggins, strategy director for Oracle Communications.
David Goldman, director-satellite policy for SpaceX, said there is a need to figure out better ways for players “to co-exist” in spectrum, including by being “more open-minded and creative” on sharing frequencies.
Rob Shema, executive vice president-member services & finance for ACA, stressed the benefits of cooperation between ACA and CCA, including on spectrum issues. He said there are pluses for cable operators and wireless carriers to work together on 5G deployment, noting that some companies are members of both trade organizations. “I think 5G’s going to be very important to the cable space,” Mr. Shema said. —Paul Kirby, [email protected]
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