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Battle of the billionaires: Ergen and Dell face off against Musk over 12GHz

Dish Network's billionaire Chairman Charlie Ergen met with Republican FCC commissioners this week, urging them to allow 5G operations in the 12GHz band where his companies own a significant number of licenses.

In doing so, Ergen essentially joined fellow billionaire Michael Dell, CEO of Dell Technologies, in pushing for 5G operations in the 12GHz band. Dell's private money management firm backs a company called RS Access, which owns 12GHz licenses and has been pushing for rules allowing 5G operations in the band.

But Ergen and Dell aren't the only billionaires interested in the 12GHz band. In his meetings with FCC officials this week, Ergen specifically argued against a rival proposal from SpaceX – backed by fellow billionaire Elon Musk – that would set aside the 12GHz band for satellite uses.

If this were an episode of Celebrity Deathmatch, you'd have Ergen (No. 304 on Forbes' billionaire list with $5.4 billion) and Dell (No. 33 with $22.9 billion) on one side of the ring, and Musk (No. 31 with $24.6 billion) on the other.

"The benefits of utilizing the 12GHz band for 5G broadband service are well documented," Dish Network explained in a filing describing Ergen's meetings with FCC Commissioners Michael O'Rielly and Brendan Carr. The company cited support on the issue from public-interest groups and trade associations including Public Knowledge, Incompas, the Open Technology Institute and the Competitive Carriers Association.

Dish also said Ergen "explained that granting the pending SpaceX application to use the 12GHz band for satellite use would permanently foreclose use of the band for terrestrial 5G. This would not be in the public interest given the clear potential benefits for 5G, especially when SpaceX seeks thousands of megahertz of other spectrum suitable for its planned uses."

Ergen's comments on the topic essentially ratchet up the rhetoric in the battle over 12GHz. In its own filing in June, SpaceX argued that "operators like SpaceX have developed cutting-edge technologies that allow them to provide advanced broadband services to consumers" and that 5G operations in 12GHz from Dish and others would create enough interference to "significantly reduce the satellite use of the spectrum and risk major degradation and disruption for consumer downlink services."

SpaceX stressed that it has already launched dozens of satellites that will need to use the 12GHz band, and that its Starlink brand "is poised to initiate consumer service this year across the United States using the 12GHz band" via its constellation of low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites.

SpaceX is one of several businesses owned by outspoken billionaire entrepreneur Musk, who may or may not support musician Kanye West's for US president.

Although SpaceX voiced misgivings about the proposal, one startup argued recently to the FCC that it might have a solution to the billionaires' battles over 12GHz. Federated Wireless said the spectrum-sharing technology it's currently using in the 3.5GHz CBRS band could also be applied to the 12GHz band.

"Federated Wireless has examined the underlying 2016 Petition for Rulemaking filed by the MVDDS 5G Coalition [which is backed by Dish] and the technical studies submitted in response thereto, and does not see any obstacles to sharing the band between direct broadcast service ("DBS"), non-geostationary satellite orbit ("NGSO") fixed-satellite services ("FSS") [which include SpaceX], and fixed and mobile 5G wireless broadband services," the company wrote.

As Mills Lane, the referee for Celebrity Deathmatch, would say:

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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