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'Sense of Urgency'

5G for 12 GHz Coalition Leaders Hope for FCC Action This Year

Leaders of the 5G for 12 GHz Coalition hope for FCC action by year-end on rules to allow fixed-wireless use of the lower 12 GHz band. Comments were due Wednesday on a Further NPRM, which commissioners approved 4-0 in May, examining fixed-wireless and unlicensed use of 12.2-12.7 GHz spectrum (see 2305180052). That FNPRM was part of a complicated series of items addressing the 12 and 13 GHz bands.

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Incompas President Chip Pickering, a former Republican member of the House from Mississippi, and Jeff Blum, Dish Network executive vice president-external and legislative affairs, told us they expect some potential pushback, but they see FCC engineers making a quick assessment of the record and agreeing fixed-wireless doesn’t raise interference concerns.

This is “one of those rare moments” when billions of dollars are being made available through the broadband equity, access and deployment (BEAD) program, which will be awarded early next year, and the FCC is considering the use of the lower 12 GHz band, Pickering said. There’s “a huge infusion of funding and the potential to bring some of the best spectrum in the world into the market at the same time, that would really help close the digital divide,” he said.

We need and really encourage the commission to have a sense of urgency,” Pickering said: “We think that the record is complete. The technical analysis is clean and straightforward.”

We’re finally at the place where the FCC has an opportunity, by the end of this year, to update 20-year-old rules to allow for higher power, fixed-wireless service, to help connect those who are unconnected, including in tribal areas,” Blum said. The coalition thought mobile use of the band was possible, but the FCC looked closely and disagreed, he said.

The FCC was concerned that cellphones are ubiquitous and can be used anywhere and it would be difficult to control potential interference between direct broadcast satellite (DBS) and non-geostationary orbit (NGSO) systems, Blum said. The coalition fully embraces fixed use as an alternative, he said. “The interference environment is much, much easier for fixed, because you know where everyone is,” he said. “Doing fixed is much, much easier than mobile."

The lower 12 GHz was already purchased by Dish and others and wouldn’t require the restoration of auction authority for the agency to act, Blum said. “It’s the only spectrum band that could be acted on this year, and it’s a lot of spectrum,” he said. If opponents of a rule change “choose to fight, we will fight back,” he said.

Pickering and Blum said the FCC should be able to act whether or not nominee Anna Gomez is confirmed to the open seat on the commission. “This has been a bipartisan issue” and all four current commissioners indicated they would support revised rules if recommended by the Office of Engineering and Technology, Blum said. “We like and respect Anna Gomez, but I don’t think it will necessarily change the outcome” if she’s confirmed, he said. Pickering noted the proceeding was started under a Republican, then-Chairman Ajit Pai: “It has been bipartisan all the way through.”

Comments were due Wednesday on the FNPRM and an NPRM on the upper band, in dockets 20-443 and 22-352, but only a few have been posted. The Wireless Bureau rejected a request by satellite interests to delay the filing deadlines in both proceedings by 45 days (see 2308070054).

The FCC was “reticent” to approve mobile use of the lower band, noted the Computer & Communications Industry Association. “As a fixed wireless option, this service will be less difficult to coordinate vis-a-vis extant DBS and NGSO service in the Lower 12 GHz while nonetheless unlocking more of this spectrum’s potential,” CCIA said. In the upper band, “the record shows ‘very few parties have argued that the current balance of incumbents in the 12.7 GHz band should be left unchanged and that the band should remain untouched,’” the group said.

AT&T said mobile wireless should be allowed in the 12.7 GHz band. “In 2022, wireless data traffic increased to 73.7 trillion megabytes, a 38% increase from 2021, and is expected to increase 58 gigabytes per smartphone per month on average (4x current usage) by 2028,” AT&T said: The band will “help wireless operators in the future meet these traffic demands.” AT&T said the band is likely to be a “good fit for 6G technologies, including high-speed, low-latency, bandwidth-intensive applications, such as augmented reality, virtual reality, telesurgery, and robotics.”

But NAB raised concerns about protecting broadcast operations in the upper band. “While it may be possible to relocate incumbent stations” in the broadcast auxiliary services “to a smaller portion of the 12.7 GHz band, there are no reasonable options for relocating all broadcaster operations out of the band, and complete clearing the band of broadcast operations will not be possible,” broadcasters said: “Both fixed and mobile BAS operations in the 12.7 GHz band are necessitated by lack of available spectrum in other, lower-frequency bands and by the Commission’s restrictions on minimum path length in those bands.”

The 5G for 12 GHz Coalition asked the FCC to act on the lower band by Dec. 31. “The need for additional spectrum for the delivery of broadband has underscored the importance of increasing the efficiency of previously allocated spectrum wherever possible,” the coalition said: “Present-day systems can identify other spectrum users’ actual usage across multiple dimensions, including time, frequency, power, and other measures, and exploit idle frequency assignments in the same spectrum.”