America's "race to 5G" is now running up against America's love of television.
Specifically, some of the nation's biggest content companies -- including Disney, Discovery, CBS and Fox -- are warning that the wireless industry's latest 5G proposal could mess up video programming for up to 300 million people throughout the US.
"There ought to be at least as much time and thought devoted to protecting video downlinks [for TV] as there has been to the debate over private clearing vs. public auctions [for 5G spectrum]," wrote the content companies in a filing to the FCC.
And what of the wireless industry's position? "A successful strategy for 5G requires access to a sufficient amount of mid-band spectrum," wrote Ericsson -- the nation's largest supplier of wireless networking equipment -- in a filing to the FCC. The position taken by Disney, Fox and other Hollywood companies "fails to address this need," Ericsson said.
At issue are the airwaves -- dubbed the C Band -- that are currently used to help deliver news, sports and other TV programming to cable, satellite and over-the-air TV providers. Companies like AT&T and Ericsson want to use some or all of that spectrum for 5G, but TV providers like Fox, CBS and others want to keep the majority of that spectrum for TV programming like Fox's Tucker Carlson Tonight or CBS's NCIS.
Hanging in the balance are billions of dollars. For example, one estimate puts the value of the full C Band for 5G at a whopping $65 billion. The reason the spectrum is so valuable is because it's perfect for 5G -- due to the propagation characteristics of mid-band spectrum like the C Band (at 3.7GHz - 4.2GHz), 5G transmissions will be able to carry lots of data and travel long distances. The same is not true of low-band spectrum (it can go far but can't carry much data) or of high-band spectrum (it can't go far but it can carry lots of data).
Already there's some agreement that a portion of the C Band should be taken away from the TV industry and allocated to the wireless industry for 5G. That's because, according to one estimate, TV companies and others are currently only using 21% of the 500MHz in the C Band. However, due to a variety of technical reasons, the TV industry doesn't want to part with more than 200MHz of the C band. But the 5G industry, lead by the likes of Ericsson and trade group CTIA, want more than that -- like 300MHz or, ideally, all of it.
Given the billions of dollars on the line, there are lots of different proposals out there about exactly when, how, and how much C Band spectrum to move from the TV industry to the wireless industry. A proposal from the C-Band Alliance (CBA) -- comprised mainly of large satellite companies -- appears to be gaining traction. The group recently laid out the technical details of how it would shift the spectrum from the TV industry to the wireless industry, and -- more importantly -- AT&T issued a detailed evaluation of the CBA's proposal, albeit with a number of suggested changes.
But the CBA isn't the only game in town. T-Mobile continues to argue that its own proposal -- which involves the FCC auctioning a large portion of the C Band for 5G instead of the CBA selling it privately -- is a more equitable way to handle the situation.
According to a detailed report on the topic by investment bank Exane/BNPP that was reported by Advanced Television, US regulators are leaning toward supporting the CBA's proposal and could vote on the topic as early as October.
What's interesting to note here is that Hollywood companies like Disney and Fox aren't the only ones worrying over 5G. Some of the nation's weather forecasters are warning that 5G operations in the recently auctioned 24GHz band could significantly affect the nation's weather-forecasting capabilities.