Verizon Communications has notched a deal with satellite communications provider SES that aims to fast-track the mobile operator's clearance of key C-band spectrum for 5G services including fixed wireless access (FWA).
The agreement, they said, will put Verizon in position to access a portion of the C-band (3700MHz-3800MHz) in regions across the US earlier than the relocation deadlines set out by the FCC. SES noted that it has already completed phase I of accelerated C-band clearing ahead of the FCC's first deadline of December 5, 2021, a move that has earned the company about $1 billion in accelerated relocation payments.
To meet the phase II deadline of December 5, 2023, SES said it is working to reallocate its existing services from the 3700MHz-4000MHz portion of the C-band. SES estimates that the phase II relocation process and the completion of equipment changes for Incumbent Earth Stations across the contiguous US will earn an additional $4 billion in accelerated relocation payments.
Under the new accelerated C-band clearing agreement, SES will expand Verizon's access to the 3700MHz-3800MHz block in "certain markets" beyond the 46 Partial Economic Areas cleared in phase I, and will do so earlier than the phase II accelerated relocation deadline.
The new agreement calls for SES to install filters and other ancillary equipment to about 500 sites in 2022, comparable to the activities SES completed during phase I. SES said the plan will earn the satellite company an additional $170 million from Verizon.
But the accelerated plan will come at a price, with SES estimating that the non-reimbursable costs across the entire C-band clearing project will rise to $100 million, up from a previous estimate of $80 million.
"Providing 5G services to as many Americans as soon as possible supports the US economy and enables the delivery of valuable services to the population," SES CEO Steve Collar said in a statement. "We will leverage the experience we have gained over the past year and shorten the clearing timeline for Verizon's spectrum."
The accelerated C-band clearance plan is also coming together following months of controversy about the band's compatibility with commercial aviation and potential interference with aircraft radio altimeters. To help allay those concerns, AT&T and Verizon agreed to delay their 5G launches near certain US airports.
C-band push continues
The new SES agreement, which includes a plan to expand access to home broadband services delivered via FWA technologies, will help Verizon gain access to critical midband spectrum for 5G services. Verizon added 78,000 FWA customers in Q4 2021, extending its total to 228,000. Verizon ended 2021 with about 20 million homes covered with its FWA products and expects to boost that coverage by millions of homes with its ongoing launch of C-band spectrum.
Earlier this month, Verizon said it expects its C-band network to reach 175 million people by the end of 2022, ahead of a previous goal to reach that number by the end of 2023. Verizon has left unchanged a previously announced target of covering 250 million people with C-band 5G by 2024.
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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading