FCC OKs midband moves for 5G

Agency adopts rules to free up 280MHz of C-Band spectrum for a December 2020 auction, forms competitive bidding procedures for an auction of spectrum in the CBRS 3.5GHz band set to start in June.

Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor

February 28, 2020

5 Min Read
FCC OKs midband moves for 5G

Aiming to free up critical midband spectrum for 5G services, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to auction a large slice of the C-Band and establish procedures for the June auction of the 3.5GHz CBRS band.

The FCC also proposed updated rules centered on "white spaces," unused parts of broadcast TV bands that can be used to bring inexpensive wireless broadband services to rural areas.

As expected, a divided FCC approved to free up 280MHz of the C-Band (3.7GHz-4.2GHz) for 5G, while relocating incumbent satellite operations there to the upper part of the band. The vote passed 3-2, with FCC Democratic commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks dissenting.

Per the plan, the FCC is allocating the 3.7GHz-4.0GHz portion of the C-Band for mobile use, with 280MHz (3.7GHz-3.98GHz) to be auctioned by the FCC for US wireless services. Another 20MHz (3.98GHz-4.0GHz) will serve as a guide band and the incumbent satellite users will be prepacked into the upper 200MHz of the band.

The FCC has set a schedule to transition 280MHz of the C-Band for flexible use no later than December 5, 2025.

Per the FCC's Report and Order, eligible space station operators will be in line to receive accelerated relocation payments of $9.7 billion "if they commit to, and succeed in, clearing the spectrum early." To be eligible for phase I of the payments, the operators must clear 120MHz in 46 Partial Economic Areas by December 5, 2021, and for phase II, must clear the remaining 180MHz of spectrum by December 5, 2023.

The financial breakdown of those payments has been a point of contention for the remaining members of the C-Band Alliance (CBA): Intelsat, SES and Telesat (Eutelsat quit the alliance last year). Intelsat has argued to the FCC it should get up to 67% of the $9.7 billion, rather than the 50% that was proposed.

"Making this critical spectrum available represents another important step to closing the digital divide, especially in rural areas, and secures US leadership in 5G," the FCC proclaimed following today's vote on the C-Band.

The FCC also voted to seek comment on the bidding procedures for the December 8, 2020, C-Band auction. The proposal establishes two categories of spectrum blocks for each region: five 20-megahertz blocks in the lower 100MHz (3.7GHz-3.8 GHz) and nine 20MHz blocks in the remaining 180MHz (3.8GHz-3.98 GHz). The proposal is to set bidding credit caps of $25 million for small businesses and $10 million for rural service providers, as well as a $10 million cap on the overall amount of bidding credits that a small business bidder may apply to win licenses in smaller markets.

CBRS auction plans
The FCC also stamped application and bidding procedures for the auction of more than 22,000 county-sized Priority Access Licenses (PALs) in the 3.5GHz CBRS band, another swath of midband spectrum that being tagged for 5G services and private LTE networks

The CBRS band has drawn interest from several US cable operators, which view it as an opportunity to offload mobile traffic and reduce MVNO costs. Charter Communications, for one, has indicated it would be a likely participant in the CBRS spectrum auction.

Per the plan, bidding in the CBRS auction, designated as Auction 105, is scheduled to start on June 25, 2020. The CBRS auction will offer up to seven PALs in each county-based license area, for a total of 22,631 PALs nationwide. Each PAL will consist of a 10MHz unpaired channel in the 3.55GHz-3.65 GHz band.

The auction for licensed parts of the CBRS band will live alongside an unlicensed portion (General Authorized Access, or GAA) already in use today and with incumbent users of the band such as the US Navy. Spectrum Access Systems (SASs) from companies such as Google, CommScope and Federated Wireless will be used to govern the shared band and mitigate possible interference between the various users.

White space proposal tagged for inexpensive rural broadband
The FCC also proposed updates to rules on so-called "white spaces" to help boost wireless broadband coverage in rural areas. The idea, led by companies such as Microsoft, is to pave the way for white space devices that can operate in portions of the broadcast television bands not used today by TV stations and use that capacity for unlicensed wireless broadband and IoT services and applications.

The FCC's notice aims to permit higher transmit power and antenna height above "average terrain" for fixed white space devices in less congested areas. The FCC stressed that this rule would allow White Space devices to reach users at great distances. Tied in, the Commission will seek comment on methods that could be used to allow higher power operation by white space devices when adjacent TV channels are occupied.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

About the Author(s)

Jeff Baumgartner

Senior Editor, Light Reading

Jeff Baumgartner is a Senior Editor for Light Reading and is responsible for the day-to-day news coverage and analysis of the cable and video sectors. Follow him on X and LinkedIn.

Baumgartner also served as Site Editor for Light Reading Cable from 2007-2013. In between his two stints at Light Reading, he led tech coverage for Multichannel News and was a regular contributor to Broadcasting + Cable. Baumgartner was named to the 2018 class of the Cable TV Pioneers.

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