FCC Proposals Likely to Bring Big Changes to Industry
Tuesday, June 11, 2019 | Comments
Several recent FCC proposals have the potential to change the industry in big ways. The latest action on 900 MHz sets up a realignment process we haven’t experienced since 800 MHz rebanding began more than a decade ago. The biggest difference will be the process the FCC uses to relocate incumbents, and hopefully, the length of time it takes to complete the initiative.

Four years after pdvWireless and the Enterprise Wireless Alliance (EWA) filed a petition asking the FCC to realign the 900 MHz band — spectrum that is important to critical infrastructure industries (CII), SMRs, business/industry and others — to allow for broadband operations, the FCC in March released a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) proposing to do just that.

Among other things, the NPRM proposes a “market-driven, voluntary exchange” that would allow existing licensees to mutually agree to a plan for relocating site-based incumbents. Site-based incumbents would have the opportunity to relocate on a voluntary basis and allow an eligible party to acquire a broadband license on a county-by-county basis in the cleared spectrum.

Under the proposal, the FCC would require the prospective broadband licensee to hold the licenses for all 20 geographically licensed blocks of 900 MHz SMR spectrum in the relevant county. The prospective licensee could then negotiate with site-based incumbents to move narrowband operations out of the broadband segment. The new broadband licensee could then apply for a license to operate on a primary basis in the broadband segment in each county it successfully clears.

The rules aren’t final. Many incumbents and other industry players weighed in on the issue in comments last week. However, based on the FCC’s drive toward spectrum sharing and broadband and 5G services, I expect the FCC to move forward with its proposed rules, hopefully at least tweaking a few details in line with incumbent requests. Reply comments are due in July.

Another FCC proposal would see unlicensed use in the 6 GHz band. CII entities, public-safety groups, AT&T, vehicle-to-everything (V2X) proponents and even the National Football League (NFL) oppose allowing unlicensed use in this band, which is used for backhaul for mission-critical communications networks. Unfortunately, many consumer wireless heavyweights such as Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft are lobbying hard for unlicensed access to the spectrum, and the commission seems poised to agree with them.

While public-safety groups and CII entities continue to make their case against sharing this spectrum to the FCC in filings and presentations and discussions tracked by ex parte filings, companies on the other side of the equation continually weigh in as well. I received a promotional email from Qualcomm with the headline “What opportunities will the new 6 GHz band bring for 5G?” The email described “a revolutionary new sharing paradigm” called synchronized sharing.

Both proceedings set the stage for major updates in telecom policy for our industry. Licensees should educate themselves and prepare for pending changes to their networks.

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