AAR Negotiates 900 MHz Spectrum Swap with pdvWireless
Tuesday, June 04, 2019 | Comments

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) negotiated a 900 MHz spectrum swap arrangement with pdvWireless, following an FCC proposal to realign the spectrum band for broadband operations.

The swap, if approved by the FCC, would result in AAR’s relocation to the 10-channel A block. AAR holds a six-channel 900 MHz nationwide geographic ribbon license, used for mission-critical wireless control of wayside track switches and signals. AAR noted that the FCC’s 900 MHz notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) was not clear on how AAR’s channels would be relocated, given that the proposed rules discuss only site-based and geographic SMR licenses.

AAR expressed its concern that, under a literal reading of the NPRM, it appeared that the geographic ribbon license would be “broken up” and returned to site-based licensing, which could result in thousands of individual call signs, given the 9,500 railroad transmitters operating on the spectrum. AAR also expressed concern that, by handling the band reconfiguration on a county-by-county basis as proposed, AAR could be left with a patchwork of different frequencies that could create operational problems when a wayside switch or signal needs the ability to communicate with two base stations located in different counties.

The proposed solution would both provide for the relocation of the AAR ribbon license on a nationwide basis and would serve the public interest by making the advanced train safety applications possible, the association said in an FCC filing. Under this arrangement, the railroads would cover the full cost of their relocation, removing this as a hurdle to the implementation of broadband licenses nationwide. However, AAR would need an exception to the FCC’s proposed requirement that a potential broadband licensee hold 20 major trading areas (MTA blocks) and to the 1:1 channel exchange limitation.

AAR estimated the costs involved in relocating its channels at nearly $70 million for all six of its channels. “Given the fact that many radios cannot be retuned (and those that can still need to be physically swapped out to enable accurate retuning in a lab), the costs may be high enough to discourage potential broadband licensees who would need to reimburse these costs,” an AAR ex parte filing said.

During a May 21 presentation to investors, pdvWireless CEO Morgan O’Brien estimated realigning the 900 MHz band to allow it to offer broadband services would cost pdvWireless $90 million to $120 million over three years. He said most equipment would not have to be replaced, only retuned. O’Brien also said the company had an agreement in principle with the AAR, which required approval by the FCC.

AAR officials also discussed a number of important train safety applications that could be deployed in 900 MHz if AAR were relocated to 10 contiguous channels as part of the reconfiguration process.

The AAR filing is here.

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