[Satellite News 10-18-12] The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has voted to allow AT&T and other mobile carriers to provide mobile and fixed broadband service in a 30MHz band of wireless communications service (WCS) spectrum – a move that paves the way for an agreement between AT&T and Sirius XM over interference concerns over mobile broadband service in the 2.3GHz band of spectrum.
Sirius XM provides satellite radio service in an adjacent band of spectrum. In 1997, the FCC auctioned the WCS spectrum, but has held up its use for 15 years due to the regulatory process of dealing with complaints about potential interference. In 2010, the FCC worked to free up 500MHz of spectrum for commercial mobile broadband and unlicensed use by 2020. The latest FCC authorization revises technical rules for mobile carriers operating in the WCS band.
AT&T Vice President of Federal Regulatory Affairs Joan Marsh praised the commission’s vote. “The era of regulatory dispute and uncertainty in the WCS band is finally drawing to a close,” March said in a statement. “We anticipate that the service rules adopted today will permit deployment of LTE technologies in the WCS band while ensuring that satellite radio services are protected from unreasonable interference. We expect to commence deployment of LTE infrastructure in the band in as early as three years, allowing us to enhance our wireless broadband services.”
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said that all of the members of mobile carrier trade group CTIA met the deadline of providing mobile alerts in two of four categories: voice, data, texting and international roaming. In an agreement with the FCC, CTIA members committed to provide alerts for all four categories by April 17.
“For many years, we had a large swath of spectrum frozen and unused," said Rosenworcel. "But this year, things began to thaw … AT&T took real risks to develop this under-utilized band.”
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski added that removing regulatory barriers is just one way that the commission is working to free up spectrum and increase the efficiency of its use.
“The U.S. has become the world’s test bed for 4G LTE services and applications, which is vital for U.S. innovation leadership and for sustainable job creation,” Genachowski said in a statement. “The Commission is also reallocating underutilized spectrum, as with the historic incentive auction; moving forward with traditional auctions; working with our partner agencies to clear and reallocate government spectrum; enabling dynamic spectrum sharing; and facilitating secondary market transactions.”
The issue should be familiar to the satellite industry. Late last year, satellite operator LightSquared planned to deploy a 4G-LTE (Long Term Evolution-a preliminary 4G standard) Ancillary Terrestrial Component (ATC) wholesale telecommunications network, and ran into opposition from the global positioning system (GPS) lobby over interference. In Februrary of this year, the FCC announced that it would suspend its January 2011 conditional waiver of the original license conditions that would allow the 4G network to be built out, based on a National Telecommunications and Information Administration report, which said that there was no practical way to mitigate the potential interference with GPS devices.
LightSquared investors are now seeking to recoup their investments in court, claiming that LightSquared should have anticipated even technical and regulatory issues not of its own making.
During a January 2012 earnings call, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said he had his own frustrations with the FCC. “We need the FCC’s action and leadership,” said Stephenson. “The commission hadn’t held a significant spectrum auction in nearly five years. They took up to a year to approve even the most routine spectrum deals and seemed intent on picking winners and losers, rather than letting these markets work.”