TR Daily Wireless Industry Seeks More Spectrum Than C-Band Alliance Proposes
Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Wireless Industry Seeks More Spectrum Than C-Band Alliance Proposes

Some wireless industry entities say that more than the 200 megahertz, including a 20-MHz guard band, proposed by the C-Band Alliance (CBA) under a market-based framework should be freed up for terrestrial use in the 3.7-4.2 gigahertz band, and they also cite other concerns about that plan. Some also urged the FCC to use an incentive auction to make the 3.7-4.2 GHz band available.

Some wireless industry entities also expressed opposition to the Broadband Access Coalition’s plan to provide shared use of 300 MHz in the band for fixed point-to-multipoint (P2MP) operations, while proponents of that proposal urged the FCC to adopt it.

For their part, satellite entities and customers that rely on their services say the Commission must ensure that their operations are protected in any attempt to find spectrum for terrestrial broadband operations.

The comments were filed yesterday in GN dockets 18-122 and 17-183 in response to a notice of proposed rulemaking adopted by the FCC in July (TR Daily, July 12).

“Wireless companies today measure broadband spectrum in gigahertz, not megahertz, and wireless spectrum auctions have contributed more than $100 billion in auction revenue to the United States Treasury,” T-Mobile US, Inc., said in its comments, complaining that the CBA proposal “caps spectrum for broadband at 180 megahertz and directs all spectrum revenue to satellite investors and none to taxpayers. Auctioning the 3.7 GHz band will generate more broadband spectrum – and more public interest benefits for consumers and taxpayers – than the satellite operators’ proposal.”

T-Mobile proposed “a Commission-administered, market-based auction mechanism to maximize the use of the 3.7-4.2 GHz band by terrestrial licensees, while permitting satellite operators to retain sufficient spectrum to continue to provide services to their customers and share in the revenue generated from that auction. T-Mobile’s market-based auction would feature multiple phases in which all satellite licensees would be the sellers and potential wireless providers would be the buyers. With each succeeding phase of the auction, decreasing amounts of spectrum would be made available until the Commission reached a minimum amount of spectrum available for terrestrial networks. T-Mobile recommends that the Commission set that floor at 300 megahertz in most areas (i.e., satellite operators would be able to retain 200 megahertz). In certain locations defined by satellite operators, outside of major metropolitan areas, satellite operators would only be required to make 200 megahertz available, and could retain 300 megahertz for satellite operations.”

T-Mobile said that the “market-based approach will best promote the public interest. Unlike the plan offered by satellite operators,” T-Mobile said, its plan would (1) “[p]rovide a sufficient amount of mid-band spectrum to meet the need for mobile wireless broadband”; (2) “[p]rovide taxpayers with compensation for the expanded rights for the use of the public airwaves”; and (3) “[g]enerate transparent market-based results.”

“In order for any proposal that envisions full or partial clearing of the 3.7-4.2 GHz band to be successful, the Commission must have an accurate assessment of the current use of the spectrum. It can only do that through an additional information collection. Satellite providers should be required to validate the accuracy of the data provided by earth station registrants and licensees,” T-Mobile said. The carrier added that it “continues to disagree with requests to designate some or all of the 3.7-4.2 GHz band for point-to-multipoint (‘P2MP’) operations. The Commission has long abandoned spectrum allocation approaches that designate bands for particular technologies. If providers of P2MP services wish to secure use of the band, they can participate in the auction that T-Mobile proposes.”

“For an effective mid-band 5G initiative, a substantial amount of 3.7-4.2 GHz spectrum, in the range of hundreds of megahertz, needs to be transitioned nationwide. CTIA appreciates the C-Band Alliance’s recognition that spectrum in the 3.7-4.2 GHz band can be repurposed for flexible terrestrial use. And the C-Band Alliance’s recent announcement that it intends to clear 200 megahertz, resulting in 180 megahertz of flexible-use spectrum, is an improvement over the earlier 100-megahertz proposal. But, the Commission should go further and require more than that – hundreds of megahertz – be repurposed on a nationwide basis,” CTIA said in its filing, adding that the FCC should ensure that licensees are able to each use 100 MHz of spectrum.

CTIA also urged the FCC to (1) “[p]rotect existing satellite uses in the 3.7-4.2 GHz band (‘C-band’) while extending the freeze on new operations”; (2) “[r]epack the remaining satellite portion of the C-band and explore alternative transmission media or technologies that may be able to meet the needs of some existing C-band uses – including the use of fiber, the Ku- and Ka- bands, and compression technology”; (3) “[a]dopt service and technical rules that will speed buildout and deployment of 5G networks – including a 15-year, renewable license term, robust performance requirements, and power limits that drive innovation while adequately protecting services from interference”; and (4) “[d]ecline to authorize a point-to-multipoint (‘P2MP’) fixed service (‘FS’) in the 3.7-4.2 GHz band.”

“The Commission should allow incumbent satellite operators, working through a ‘Transition Facilitator,’ to voluntarily clear 3.7-4.2 GHz spectrum and make repurposed spectrum available on the secondary market, subject to FCC approval,” said Verizon Communications, Inc., “To enable quick action, the Commission should require that satellite providers ensure that qualifying earth station users will continue to have access to the content they currently receive today. Satellite operators are best positioned to protect or accommodate those earth stations interests, given their knowledge and expertise regarding C-band capacity, operations, and use. And bilateral negotiations between the Transition Facilitator and prospective flexible use licensees will provide a degree of flexibility that will help address a complicated transition like this one involving thousands of entities with independent interests.”

Verizon added that the FCC “should subject the market-based mechanism” to a framework that it approves.

It said the FCC should (1) “set a minimum amount of spectrum to be transitioned, in the hundreds of megahertz”; (2) “ensure that C-band traffic delivered via existing, qualifying earth stations will be adequately protected or accommodated by the transition”; (3) “set strict timelines to accomplish the transition and adopt a backstop – a traditional ‘clear and auction’ approach – in the event of significant delay”; and (4) “review the transition facilitation plan and promptly act on the transfer of flexible use licenses.”

“The C-Band Alliance (‘CBA’), which collectively represents space station licensees serving virtually all of the C-band customers in the continental United States, recently has gone on record suggesting that 200 MHz of C-band spectrum could be reallocated to accommodate terrestrial flexible use while continuing to meet satellite needs. Thus, careful consideration of how that reallocation could be accomplished and perhaps enlarged is clearly warranted,” said AT&T, Inc., which noted that its various media and telecom operations rely on the C-band. “In other words, given the vast potential for mid-band spectrum to enable 5G services, the FCC should continue to develop the record on the potential for shifting use of the C-band, while ensuring that current users of satellite services continue to have access to highly reliable, competitive data transport services.”

Regarding the C-Band Alliance’s market-based proposal, the Competitive Carriers Association commended the Commission “for exploring novel and innovative ways to further access to spectrum opportunities for a variety of stakeholders. At the same time, the market-based proposal is unprecedented; incumbent satellite providers effectively are proposing a mechanism in which they would play a central role in allocating terrestrial rights that they do not currently possess. While the proposal touts the benefits of speedily reallocating 3.7-4.2 GHz spectrum for terrestrial uses, it also raises significant concerns. Any process, whether public or private, must ensure fair and equitable participation from all interested parties, and while the Commission has an admirable track record on those issues based on its recent auctions, private entities do not have the same experience.

“Additional clarification is necessary to determine how any private market process would occur, and whether it would strike an appropriate balance to achieve the FCC’s laudable goals of leveraging spectrum resources to ultimately bridge the digital divide,” CCA added. “The Commission should carefully review all proposals on record to maximize resources for the benefit of consumers in rural and underserved communities.”

“For the reasons set forth above, in order to maximize the amount of spectrum in the 3.7- 4.2 GHz band reallocated to terrestrial flexible use and ensure small and regional carriers have an opportunity to acquire rights to this spectrum in order to provide next generation wireless services to rural areas and to act as a competitive check on the dominant nationwide carriers, the Commission should utilize an incentive auction-based reallocation mechanism for the 3.7-4.2 GHz band, license the MBX [mid-band flexible use] spectrum on the basis of CMAs [cellular market areas] and 20 megahertz blocks, adopt a 15-year license term with reasonable performance requirements tailored to this band, and limit the amount of MBX spectrum a single entity may acquire,” said United States Cellular Corp.

But Cisco Systems, Inc. urged “the Commission to take fast action to implement the C-Band Alliance proposal for a private band transition of 3.7-4.2 GHz. Satellite operators have every reason to ensure that the transition will leave their customers whole. Not only are these customers an important source of revenue, but satellite operators who leave their customers dissatisfied face the risk of private litigation. More importantly, speedy action to make 200 megahertz of spectrum available in the mid-band for 5G is too important to delay. This spectrum can and should be put to work for American consumers roughly contemporaneously with Europe’s 3 GHz spectrum. The Commission should act with dispatch.”

Ericsson also urged the FCC to “[r]epurpose hundreds of megahertz of 3.7-4.2 GHz spectrum. An individual carrier will need access to somewhere on the order of 100 megahertz of spectrum if it is to achieve gigabit-level speeds for mobile broadband service. To accommodate multiple carriers, the Commission must repurpose hundreds of megahertz of spectrum within the 3.7-4.2 GHz band. Ericsson notes that there is currently no licensed mid-band spectrum with channel sizes approaching anywhere near 100 megahertz.”

The FCC also should “[r]equire stakeholders to ensure continued delivery of C-Band traffic or otherwise create incentives for earth station operations to clear the band. Repack the band and transition C-Band traffic to alternative delivery mechanisms, for example via fiber or Ku-Band spectrum. Further, the Commission should sunset the few fixed point-to-point operations in the 3.7-4.2 GHz band,” Ericsson added.

The company also urged adoption of “a flexible use licensing framework for the 3.7-4.2 GHz band that is based on exclusive-use, geographic area licenses with allowances for new classes for transportable devices. Fixed point-to-multipoint services should be permitted under the flexible use licensing terms adopted here. The Commission should also add a ‘transportable’ class of devices that will enable more fixed uses.”

“The FCC should continue to examine means of opening up the entire 500 MHz band for flexible use because there is no other sizeable block of mid-band spectrum available. The U.S. is actually at a disadvantage in the sheer amount of licensed sub-6 GHz spectrum for 5G when compared to some other countries and regions,” Qualcomm, Inc. said. “It is imperative that the FCC allocate additional exclusively licensed spectrum for 5G services below 6 GHz. The agency should enact rules that support a variety of 5G use cases, including enhanced mobile broadband, ultra-low latency, ultra-reliable communications, and 5G-based massive Internet of Things-based devices, applications, and services. Qualcomm applauds the FCC for recognizing the dearth of mid-band spectrum for 5G and for initiating this rulemaking. A focused effort to open the 3.7 to 4.2 GHz band is one of the most significant steps the Commission can take to ensure continued U.S. leadership in the race to 5G.”

Satellite entities and those that rely on the C-band or nearby spectrum stressed the need to protect the operations and some raised questions about the CBA proposal.

The Satellite Industry Association said it “fully supports the Commission’s commitment to driving U.S. 5G leadership by seeking opportunities to make more spectrum available for terrestrial wireless broadband networks. But in that effort, the Commission must not sacrifice established, vitally important C-band fixed-satellite service (‘FSS’) operations that benefit every American. Any action pursuant to the Notice must recognize and safeguard the pivotal role C-band networks play in the nation’s communications infrastructure, from supplying video and audio programming enjoyed by virtually all U.S. consumers, to providing basic, lifeline connectivity in remote regions that lack terrestrial alternatives, to enabling government services critical to public safety and national security. The tens of billions of dollars that satellite operators and their customers have invested in dozens of C-band space stations and thousands of C-band earth stations have a ripple effect that extends much further, supporting other industries that are major engines of the U.S. economy. To ensure that U.S. users have ongoing access to these integral and necessary services, the Commission must maintain policies that enable flexible, efficient, high-quality satellite offerings in response to customer demand.”

“The integral part played by C-band FSS cannot be readily filled by turning to alternative satellite spectrum or transmission methods,” SIA added. “Ku- and Ka-band frequencies have a lower resistance to rain fade than does the C-band, and satellites in these higher bands have insufficient available capacity to take over the traffic carried by C-band spacecraft. Because fiber has a limited reach, particularly in less-populated areas, relying on fiber as a substitute for C-band FSS would leave video and audio providers outside urban areas with no economical means to continue receiving the programming their customers enjoy today. Moreover, continued improvements in compression techniques will not materially reduce the need for C-band FSS given increased demand for diverse, higher-quality content packages.”

“To continue to promote robust FSS use of C-band spectrum, support existing customer arrangements, and foster ongoing competition, the Commission must reject the drastic restraints on FSS operating flexibility and proposed introduction of point-to-multipoint (‘P2MP’) services discussed in the Notice,” SIA also said. “Full-band, full-arc protection of C-band earth stations serves critical public interest objectives by allowing customers to immediately restore service following a space segment outage, benefit from competitive forces, and make opportunistic use of available capacity for coverage of live events. The long-standing policy also enables satellite operators to efficiently manage their networks to address interference and respond to customer demand. Preserving this critical flexibility will be even more important if the Commission moves forward with approaches that would limit the C-band spectrum available for FSS.”

The Boeing Co. cautioned “that any consideration of additional or alternative uses of any portion of the 3.7-4.2 GHz band must not impair the ability of C-band satellite users in the United States to continue to access such services. Instead, the Commission should preserve C-band spectrum for satellite use and lift the freeze on the filing of new C-band satellite and earth station applications. The Commission should also continue to provide full-band and full-arc protection for existing and future C-band earth stations. Finally, the Commission should take no action that might risk causing harmful interference to highly sensitive aeronautical safety services in the adjacent 4.2-4.4 GHz band.”

“As previously noted, NABA is concerned that new terrestrial uses in the C-Band downlink spectrum will cause significant harm to existing satellite users,” the North American Broadcasters Association said. “NABA recognizes that as 5G technology evolves this may necessitate changes in the allocation of spectrum that historically has been used by broadcasters for delivery and collection of content and services. The principle of NO HARM to the broadcasting ecosystem and the public that it serves must be at the core of any rule making considerations, including adequate compensation for operations, equipment and site changes and upgrades, which will be required.”

The Society of Broadcast Engineers said, “(1) protection of C-band services and on-going full-arc protection of existing C-band facilities is critical; (2) the Commission’s premise for proposing the 3.7-4.2 GHz band for 5G rollout in the mid-band, that there is a presumptively low number of incumbent C-band downlink Earth stations has been shown to be patently false; (3) there is no cost-effective substitute for C-Band Earth stations for broadcast program delivery; (4) there is compatibility between licensed (or unlicensed with registration, a process in which SBE could assist) private, local 5G manufacturing pursuant to Industry 4.0 concepts and C-Band downlink facilities, properly managed and with appropriate coordination in the band segment 3.7-3.8 GHz; and (5) the Commission should otherwise refocus on timely rollout of 5G mobile and fixed operation in the 3.4-3.8 GHz band, with the top 100 megahertz to be used only for local, private networks which can be sited and configured so as to not interfere with C-Band receive-only Earth stations.”

The American Cable Association said it “remains perplexed by the successive positions staked out by these operators’ coalition (the ‘C-Band Alliance’) that progressively more spectrum can be allocated to 5G and progressively less spectrum is enough for satellite downlinks. Specifically, while the SES/Intelsat proposal initially involved the reallocation of 100 MHz, this has now increased to a full 200 MHz — a difference that does not seem to be accounted for by SES’s and Intelsat’s finding that the guard band can be smaller by 40 MHz (from 60 MHz to 20 MHz).

“ACA is open to a neutral, objective assessment of these technical arguments,” the filing added. “There are many questions that call for such an evaluation. For example, there may be tension between the concept of adding a filter to receiving earth stations so that the satellite downlink margin reduces by up to a certain dB and the idea of increasing the available capacity from a reduced amount of C-band downlink spectrum.”

ACA also said that in any use of the 3.7-4.2 GHz band, (1) FSS backhauls must be protected; (2) “the Commission should refrain from ‘sandwiching’ satellite backhauls between two potential incompatible uses;” (3) “if the Commission decides to reallocate the lower end of the spectrum, it should consider doing so through the mechanism of incentive auctions;” (4) “if the Commission decides to reallocate some of the spectrum through whatever mechanism, users as well as all FSS licensees should be compensated;” (5) “a portion of the proceeds from reallocation should cover the likely increase in backhaul prices as well as the harm to rural distributors’ ability to compete;” and (6) “the Commission should start small — either the bottom 50 MHz for reallocation to 5G or the top 50 MHz for sharing with FS.”

“Given the past investment in, and importance of, the C-Band to consumers and existing users, the Commission must reject proposals to intensify terrestrial use of the C-Band absent a robust record demonstrating that existing services will be protected from new, potentially-interfering services,” Comcast Corp. and its NBCUniversal subsidiary said in joint comments. “Since the Commission first proposed altering and expanding the use of the C-Band, Comcast and others have posed numerous questions about how existing services will be protected. Yet, the administrative record remains largely devoid of detailed answers to those questions. To date, no one has identified a suitable alternative to C-Band satellites for delivering the video programming on which so many Americans rely, or fully described how all existing services could continue to operate and be protected from interference in a repacked band, adjacent to new terrestrial mobile services. Some have touted the potential development of new filters, but in Comcast’s experience, filters are not foolproof and remain only one piece of the interference-protection puzzle. Some have suggested relocating current C-Band operations to other satellite bands, but those bands’ technical characteristics and available capacity preclude them as viable substitutes. Others have suggested relocating C-Band operations to fiber, but while that may work in some areas for some providers, particularly in dense urban areas, doing so on a nationwide basis would require a monumental investment. Even if such a project were feasible, fiber cannot replicate the ubiquity and the reliability of C-Band spectrum.”

“The C-band is a unique resource that allows for reliable SATCOM that cannot be met in other FSS bands,” said Aviation Spectrum Resources, Inc., which is owned by the U.S. commercial aviation industry. “The Commission should take a measured approach to any reallocation mechanism, especially given the special considerations required under ITU-R Article 4.10 for potentially affected safety services used by the flying public. Given these requirements and based on the current information at hand, the CBA proposal presents the most viable approach for all C-band interests to ensure a managed and timely transition to 5G in certain parts of the lower 3.7-4.2 GHz band.”

In joint comments, the Aerospace Industries Association and the General Aviation Manufacturers Association said they “recognize the Commission’s goal of identifying additional spectrum suitable for flexible usage for high density mobile services. The Commission, however, must ensure that any additional use of the 3.7-4.2 GHz band properly protects the aeronautical communication and safety systems that are operating in the adjacent 4.2-4.4 GHz band. Without properly studying the issue and determining proper ways in which to mitigate risk, it would be premature to allocate additional use of the 3.7-4.2 GHz band. In doing so, it could impact safety-of-life operations for all aircraft and could potentially result in a catastrophic situation due to wireless spectrum interference issues.”

Proponents of fixed use of the spectrum touted its benefit.

Microsoft Corp. urged “the Commission to make available nearly 400 megahertz of spectrum in the upper portion of the 3.7-4.2 GHz band (the ‘3.7 GHz band’) for licensed P2MP wireless broadband services. In addition, Microsoft urges the Commission to permit opportunistic access in the lower portion of the band for P2MP services. Specifically, Microsoft encourages the Commission to adopt a Report and Order in mid-2019 authorizing: (1) ‘flexible use’ in the 3.7-3.8 GHz band; (2) licensed P2MP fixed wireless broadband services on a co-primary shared basis with FSS earth stations from the top of the guard band between the flexible use spectrum and the remaining FSS band (the ‘guard band’) to 4.2 GHz; and (3) opportunistic use on a secondary basis for P2MP fixed wireless broadband services from 3.7 GHz to the top of the guard band.”

Google LLC applauded “the Commission for taking steps to open the C-band for more intensive terrestrial use. 5G fixed service could begin almost immediately, without disrupting FSS operations. Opportunities also exist to deploy mobile broadband under a flexible use designation, subject to clearing FSS earth and space station operations. The Commission should exercise caution in considering whether to rely on a private Transition Facilitator to clear C-band spectrum. To the extent that a private Transition Facilitator is used at all, protections should be implemented to ensure a fair and unbiased process. Finally, before either 5G fixed or mobile broadband can be deployed in the C-band, complete and accurate information on current FSS use must be collected and made available to allow industry to accurately assess sharing opportunities.”

Frontier Communications Corp. and Windstream Services LLC said they back the “proposal to segment allocations in the 3.7-4.2 GHz band and assign at least a portion of the band for fixed wireless use on a primary basis. Recognizing that Fixed Satellite Service (FSS) and fixed wireless services are less likely to interfere with one another than with mobile services, the lower end of the band should be reserved for flexible use, while the upper portion of the band should be made available for fixed wireless and FSS users. This should result in minimal interference between fixed and mobile services, and at the same time promote provision of fixed wireless residential and commercial services on a nationwide basis. Going forward, the Commission should avoid allowing mobile into the upper part of this band, which would result in interference with fixed wireless and FSS.”

The Broadband Connects America coalition also said it “strongly agrees with the Commission‘s proposal to open unused spectrum in the 3.7-4.2 GHz band for a licensed, point-to-multipoint (P2MP) fixed wireless service that empowers providers to extend high-speed broadband to rural, tribal, small town and other underserved areas. The Commission‘s proposal to authorize coordinated, shared use of the 3.7 GHz band can achieve a win-win-win trifecta of critical public policy goals: first, to enable fixed wireless providers to bring high-speed broadband access to rural areas; second, to reallocate a substantial portion of the band for mobile 5G networks; and third, to protect incumbent Fixed Satellite Services (FSS) licensees from undue disruption or harmful interference.”

Several of the coalition’s members are also members of the BAC.

The Public Interest Spectrum Coalition, which shares some of the same members as the BAC and the Broadband Connects America coalition, said, “The Commission should allow P2MP wireless broadband providers to coordinate shared use across the upper 300 megahertz of the band (3900-4200 MHz), on a first-in licensed basis. In addition, PISC urges the Commission to authorize opportunistic access (on a license by rule basis) by P2MP operations to any vacant frequencies in the lower portion of the band until such time as future ‘flexible use’ licensees notify the Commission or a frequency coordinator that they are ready to commence service in a local area. With the benefit of an automated frequency coordination system, the Commission can once again adopt the ‘use it or share it’ approach that it has already adopted for GAA [general authorized access] use of vacant PAL [priority access license] spectrum (in CBRS) and for unlicensed use of locally-vacant flexible use spectrum in the post-incentive-auction 600 MHz band.”

The PISC argued that “[a] ‘market-based approach’ that is tantamount to a private auction or sale would be an unlawful end-run around Section 309(j) that ignores more recent and repeated expressions of Congressional intent forbidding multi-billion dollar giveaways of federal revenue to licensees that never paid for spectrum. If the Commission allows a few incumbent licensees to decide among competing applicants (whether by ‘negotiated agreement’ or private auction), this would not satisfy the Commission‘s obligation in the public interest to use negotiation to avoid mutual exclusivity pursuant to Section 309(j)(6)(e) of the Communications Act. If it does, then – like the Cheshire Cat who taught Alice ‘the rules’ of Wonderland – there will be nothing left of the Section 309(j) auction requirement except the grin. If the ‘negotiation’ exception in Section 309(j) is satisfied by authorizing a private auction or a privately-negotiated sale as the mechanism to avoid mutual exclusive uses of the band, then the exception swallows the rule and 309(j)(1) is rendered meaningless. Congress did not recently add incentive auction authority to Section 309(j) because it intended to give the Commission the authority to give away tens of billions of dollars in public revenue with no return to the Treasury.”

“Without full transparency and close FCC supervision, a private sale is also likely to distort competition in the mobile market,” the PISC added. “Spectrum will be made available to potential bidders based only on maximizing the incumbent licensees’ profit rather than the broader public interest. Moreover, a private sale would set a dangerous precedent, suggesting that incumbent licensees should always wage maximum resistance against giving up or sharing unused spectrum unless the Commission agrees to give them all the public revenue that until now has always, with few exceptions, flowed back to the public, as Section 309(j) clearly intends.”- Paul Kirby, [email protected]


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