Higher Ground’s 6 GHz Consumer Service Approved Despite Industry Interference Fears
Friday, January 20, 2017 | Comments

Despite filings from numerous mission-critical communications organizations in opposition, the FCC granted Higher Ground’s application, with conditions, for a nationwide license to operate mobile ES transmitters in the fixed service 6 GHz band.

“The authorization will serve the public interest by allowing Higher Ground to provide new communications services to U.S. consumers, with safeguards designed to minimize the risk of harmful interference to primary users operating in these frequency bands,” said the FCC order.

Higher Ground can operate up to 50,000 earth stations, known as SatPaqs, to communicate with several satellites. The system involves a cellphone attachment that would enable consumer-based text messaging, light email and internet of things (IoT) communications via geostationary C-band satellites using the 5.925 – 6.425 GHz (Earth to space) and 3.7 – 4.2 GHz (space to Earth) frequency bands on a non-interference basis, subject to conditions.

The state of Alaska’s Office of Enterprise Technology Services; the Nebraska Public Power District; the Office of Enterprise Technology Services of the state of Hawaii; the Utilities Technology Council (UTC); the city of Mesa, Arizona; the Regional Wireless Cooperative (RWC); the TOPAZ Regional Wireless Cooperative (TRWC); Southern Company Services; Cellular Network Partnership d/b/a Pioneer Cellular; the cities of Garland, Mesquite, Rowlett, and Sachse, Texas; and the Association of American Railroads (AAR) filed ex parte communications requesting that Higher Ground’s application be dismissed and that Higher Ground’s requests be addressed in a rulemaking proceeding instead.

The Fixed Wireless Communications Coalition (FWCC), the National Spectrum Management Association (NSMA) and CenturyLink also filed in opposition. All the filings expressed similar concerns with potential interference in the 6 GHz band. Many mission-critical communications systems use 6 GHz microwave systems. 

Arizona's Regional Wireless Cooperative (RWC) represents 20 cities, towns and fire districts and their public-safety first responders serving in and around the Phoenix metropolitan region. RWC has 20 6 GHz microwave paths that could be affected across an 11,000-square-mile coverage area.
 
"The RWC is disappointed that the FCC, despite multiple filings by various entities, granted this waiver to Higher Ground for wireless operations in the 6.5 MHz range commonly utilized by public safety,” said RWC Executive Director David Felix. "The RWC’s first priority is to ensure the safety of police officers and firefighters and the public they serve. Radio communications systems serve as a lifeline for this critical service. The RWC and its technical staff will closely monitor Higher Ground’s deployment to ensure no public safety first responder is placed in danger."

“The FCC’s ill-advised decision to approve Higher Ground’s application disregards the needs of utilities, which routinely use the 6 GHz band for applications critical to the safety of people and property, such as pipeline control and electric grid operations,” said Joy Ditto, UTC president and CEO. “Interference with, and compromise of, these mission-critical communications will hinder utilities’ ability to provide safe, secure and reliable energy and water services. The FCC’s decision — just two days before a new administration took office — also ignores the official record in the proceeding. For these reasons, this decision to grant Higher Ground’s application should be overturned.”

Higher Ground said its service can operate without causing interference to C-band fixed-service (FS) point-to-point licensees. The company will use its Channel Master software to identify non-interfering frequencies for SatPaq terminal operation, taking into account all relevant Universal Licensing System (ULS)-derived data. A SatPaq terminal will not transmit other than on the non-interfering “hailing frequency” if its database does not contain current information, absent frequency assignment from the SatPaq network controller. The SatPaq terminal can use the hailing frequency to request relevant updates, and the satellite will deliver “new” C-band FS receiver information to allow it to select a non-interfering frequency.

Higher Ground underscored that SatPaq terminal transmissions in the 6 GHz band will be such that the interference level to any C-band FS receiver will be 6 dB or more below the thermal noise floor at the receiver. Whenever this condition is not met, the SatPaq will search for another frequency, or use satellite diversity, to avoid exceeding the -6 dB I/N threshold to any FS receiver.

Finally, Higher Ground said the SatPaq network controller will maintain supervisory control of all operations at all times. The network controller can override the frequency selection of the software on the SatPaq application and assign a different frequency or satellite for a SatPaq terminal transmission, shut off the entire SatPaq terminal operation by muting the forward path from a satellite necessary for the communications “handshake” or direct a specific SatPaq terminal to suspend or delay its transmission.

The FCC conditioned the application on a phased rollout of a maximum 50,000 authorized SatPaq terminals. Specifically, Higher Ground may deploy up to 5,000 new terminals each quarter during the first year following authorization. Thereafter, Higher Ground may deploy additional terminals up to the 50,000 total authorized number.

Higher Ground's automated coordination system must log the date, time, location, frequency and satellite point of communication of each SatPaq terminal transmission. The company must make this coordination data available to any FS operator, fixed satellite service (FSS) operator or the FCC upon request.

Higher Ground must cease activity in the event of a database outage, provide written notice of changes in interference algorithms, provide a direct point of contact for shutdown requests, and provide a competent and responsive contact to work jointly toward resolution of any harmful interference. The FCC may suspend or terminate deployment and operational authority at any time if it finds that the Higher Ground system causes unresolved harmful interference to protected users of the band.

If Higher Ground expands operations beyond the 50,000 terminals authorized or the FCC receives additional similar waiver requests, the commission will consider the possibility of conducting a rulemaking to formally establish a new service.

The FCC said that no more than 100 SatPaq terminals should simultaneously transmit on the same frequency using an 8-megahertz bandwidth emission, and no more than 50 SatPaq terminals should simultaneously transmit on the same frequency using a 4-megahertz bandwidth emission for the aggregate e.i.r.p. density of all concurrently transmitting co-frequency SatPaq terminals to stay below the rule limits.

“We find that Higher Ground has committed to following an interference management plan and that should prove highly effective, and that this plan, coupled with the conditions we impose herein, ensure that the waiver granted for Higher Ground’s specific, unique operations will not undermine the commission’s rules,” the order said.

The full order is here.

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Comments
On 1/26/17, David Felix said:
Thank you MissionCritical Communications for continuously bringing forth topics that are informative and important to the public-safety communications community.

On 1/25/17, Vince said:
I can only hope this extremely poorly thought out decision is overturned. Otherwise we should just start putting up any link we want. Why bother licensing through the FCC at all. It seems that you need only post enough money and you can do anything you want. Self monitoring of potential interference is NOT an acceptable solution. They need only state that they foresaw no interference, and all the work will fall on our backs to defend what we have rightfully licensed. An absolutely idiotic decision and reeks of money changing hands behind the scenes.


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