FCC Says Physics to Guide 6 GHz Decision as CTIA Proposes Relocating Incumbents
Tuesday, March 17, 2020 | Comments
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said the commission will use “physics” and “sound engineering analysis” to decide on the best use of the 6 GHz band, while CTIA backed a report that suggested relocating fixed wireless incumbents to 7 or 8 GHz.

Pai responded to letters from lawmakers providing input on the FCC’s 2018 proposal to add unlicensed operations in the spectrum. Numerous public-safety and other mission-critical users have expressed concern that allowing unlicensed use in the band could interfere with their critical communications networks.

“At the end of the day, our decision on how to best use the 6 GHz band will be driven by a simple test: What is in the public interest?” Pai said in a March 6 letter to Sen. Deb Fischer. “We’ll answer that question not by reference to politics or press releases, but physics. In that regard, we’ve relied heavily on the career staff in our Office of Engineering and Technology. I have every confidence that they are up to the task of helping assess the appropriate path forward, given their multidecade track record in resolving complex spectrum matters. I look forward to receiving their recommendations and acting expeditiously on their final analysis of the record in this proceeding.”

The letter was in a response to a letter from Fischer and Sens. John Thune and Jerry Moran that encouraged the FCC to “move forward with new rules for unlicensed use in the 6 GHz band as soon as possible while protecting existing users of the band.” Pai said in his letter to Sen. Fischer that “the wide channels it could accommodate could dramatically expand the range of services available to consumers and enable innovators to think big as they develop the applications of the future.”

The letter in favor of unlicensed operations is in contrast to a 2019 letter from a group of 12 senators that said they have heard from critical infrastructure industries (CII) entities that are concerned the proposal doesn’t protect their mission-critical systems from harmful interference. “I remain optimistic that we will be able to develop a set of technical rules that will both safeguard incumbent users and allow for unlicensed operations,” Pai said in response to that group of senators.

Lawmakers, the Department of Energy and others have weighed on the mission-critical communications industry’s side to preserve the 6 GHz band for incumbents, but many large wireless companies are lobbying just as hard to open the band for consumer use. To that end, CTIA last month filed a report prepared by Comsearch that analyzes the potential to relocate licensed fixed incumbents and urged the FCC to adopt a further notice of proposed rulemaking on “licensing the upper portion of the 6 GHz band (6.525 – 7.125 GHz) while relocating incumbent users at the expense of winning bidders.”

The report suggested “large-scale relocation of 6 GHz assignments into 7/8 GHz, to operate along with the approximately 9,000 federal assignments, appears feasible,” with a projected relocation cost to the new licensees of $2.8 billion, a small fraction of the potential value of the band, CTIA said.

The report made three main suggestions:
• Relocating fixed links out of the 6.525 – 7.125 GHz band would cost an estimated $148,291 per link for a total of $2.82 billion.
• Historic data of fixed assignments across the federal 7/8 GHz bands shows limited use (8,300 fixed assignments) and predicted flat growth. Channelization used for federal systems appears to fit well with the characteristics of nonfederal systems in the 6.525-7.125 GHz band.
• There are many shorter path lengths among the incumbent fixed links in the 6 GHz band, and these links could be candidates for relocation to the 11 GHz and 18 GHz bands. Moreover, the 11 GHz and 18 GHz bands “have sufficient channel bandwidth in most cases to accommodate shorter-length relocated paths[.]”

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