May 10, 2021
The battle between Dish Network and T-Mobile has widened into a new arena: the fight over 5G in the 12GHz band.
In a new filing with the FCC, T-Mobile essentially urged the Commission to strip Dish of its 12GHz spectrum licenses and auction them for 5G. If the agency follows T-Mobile's suggestions, it could pave the way for T-Mobile to ultimately acquire the 12GHz spectrum licenses that Dish currently owns – leaving Dish empty handed.
Such a move has precedence. The FCC last year decided to take spectrum in the 3.7GHz band away from a group of satellite companies and then auction it for 5G.
Billions of dollars hang on the FCC's decision. After all, the agency's auction of those 3.7GHz C-band spectrum licenses generated more than $80 billion in total bids.
Thus, it comes as no surprise that Dish has strongly pushed against T-Mobile's suggestions on the 12GHz topic. Dish has been loudly urging the FCC to change its rules for 12GHz to allow 5G operations in the band. That would pave the way for Dish to add 12GHz to its planned 5G network. Current FCC rules for 12GHz only permit one-way broadcasts, not two-way communications like 5G.
The 12GHz conflict
The 12GHz band is currently being used by a number of companies for a variety of satellite-based services. For example, AT&T currently uses the band for its DirecTV satellite TV service. SpaceX's Starlink, meanwhile, is using the band for its emerging low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellite Internet service.
But Dish, RS Access and others are pushing the FCC to also allow terrestrial 5G operations in the 12GHz band. RC Access just last week released a pair of studies showing that 5G operations in the 12GHz band would not interfere with satellite-based operations in the band.
Others appear to be pushing for a bit of a compromise. For example, a group of public-interest organizations suggested that the FCC allow low-power unlicensed operations, including Wi-Fi, in the 12GHz band.
AT&T, for its part, said the FCC should not allow 5G operations in the 12GHz band. That's a noteworthy position considering AT&T is a 5G network operator that bid heavily in the C-band auction.
A new front in the war
Although T-Mobile and Dish both want the FCC to allow 5G operations in the 12GHz band, they differ significantly about the details. Dish wants the FCC to allow it to keep its 12GHz spectrum licenses, while T-Mobile wants the agency to re-auction those licenses.
As part of its argument, T-Mobile pointed out that most current 12GHz licensees have only been "minimally active" in the band, and therefore should not be able to keep their licenses. That's the same argument that T-Mobile employed in 2019 when it complained that Dish had "warehoused" its various spectrum licenses instead of putting them to use in a commercial network.
More recently, T-Mobile and Dish have been bickering over T-Mobile's decision to shutter its 3G CDMA network at the beginning of next year. Some Dish Boost Mobile customerscurrently use that network.
Dish executives have complained to Congress, the FCC, the Department of Justice and the California Public Utilities Commission about T-Mobile's CDMA plans. T-Mobile hasn't shown any indication that it is backing away from its shutdown plans.
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