Industry Optimistic About New 800 MHz, UHF, 3.65 GHz Opportunities
Tuesday, October 16, 2018 | Comments

For the first time in years, new spectrum is opening for critical infrastructure industries (CII) and private wireless communications users, although the FCC has not yet released final rules.

Last week’s Enterprise Wireless Alliance (EWA) Wireless Leadership Summit in San Antonio offered an air of optimism about upcoming FCC decisions that will likely open spectrum to mission-critical communications users who haven’t had access to new channels in decades.

New opportunities include 800 MHz interstitial, expansion band (EB) and guard band (GB) spectrum set to be available as early as this year. The FCC is set to vote on new Part 90 rules, including 800 MHz updates at its Oct. 23 meeting. The order will also address 450 – 470 MHz central station alarm channels.

Under draft rules released by the commission, but not yet voted on, 318 new interstitial channels would be available. EWA made the interstitial request to the FCC several years ago.

“This is new spectrum in a key band, and we are expecting a lot of interest in it,” said Liz Sachs, EWA counsel. “The rules probably won’t be effective until near year-end.”

If the FCC approves the rules Oct. 23, they then have to be published in the Federal Register, which usually takes a few months, before they are codified.

The rules would also make 800 MHz EB and GB channels available in National Public Safety Planning Advisory Committee (NPSPAC) regions where 800 MHz rebanding is completed. The draft rules do not provide incumbent 800 MHz licensees filing priority for the EB and GB channels.

The new order would also terminate the 1995 freeze on intercategory sharing of 800 MHz channels.

Mark Crosby, CEO of EWA, said although the opportunities are tremendous, he is concerned that speculators and non-LMR entities will apply for the 800 MHz channels and potentially tie up the spectrum for years. He said the coordination process will be difficult because of the potential demand. Crosby said a third party to control the queue for license requests might be a solution.

The rules also make underused central station alarm channels at 450 – 470 MHz available for other private LMR (PLMR) purposes. Business/industrial land transportation (B/ILT) licensees have an exclusive use opportunity for the spectrum with concurrence from The Monitoring Association (TMA).

In an Oct. 5 filing with the FCC, EWA asked for clarification around several rules in the 800 MHz draft report and order.

Another area for optimism is around Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum. At the same Oct. 23 meeting, the FCC is expected to adopt updated rules for the 3.65 GHz spectrum that would auction county-sized licenses. Although not census-tract licenses, which CII originally requested, county licenses are better for CII users than larger areas that favor the nationwide wireless carriers.

Several CII users at the EWA event expressed interest in bidding in the CBRS auction, currently slated for late 2019 or 2020. Many factors — timing, cost and equipment vendors — that will determine the best opportunities for mission-critical communications users are still in play.

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