FCC takes steps to address 700MHz interoperability; MSS spectrum

23 Mar 2012

United States telecoms regulator the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has voted to investigate the technical factors that should be taken into account as part of an effort to make the entire lower 700 MHz band interoperate, Fierce Wireless reports. The FCC has also voted to look at the specific rules that would allow terrestrial use of Mobile Satellite Service (MSS) spectrum, an issue which is likely to have a significant impact on how and when satellite TV giant DISH Network deploys its network. DISH, which acquired spectrum in the 2GHz band last year as part of deals for bankrupt satellite smartphone operator TerreStar (July 2011) and hybrid satellite and communications company DBSD North America (February 2011), has set its sights on rolling out a cellular network using Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology, with the company requesting permission from the FCC to offer a standalone cellular service, as opposed to an integrated satellite service. The FCC adopted both items unanimously.

The long-running 700MHz band interoperability issue effectively pits smaller regional carriers with spectrum in the ‘Lower Block A’ range (698MHz–704MHz and 728MHz–734MHz) – including King Street Wireless (US Cellular’s bidding partner), C Spire Wireless (formerly Cellular South), MetroPCS, Cavalier Telephone and CenturyTel – against larger carriers, primarily AT&T Mobility and Verizon Wireless, neither of which actually possess 700MHz networks which are compatible with one another. To date, concerns over interference have prevented most 700MHz-compatible devices from being able to utilise different blocks of 700MHz spectrum, causing consternation for the smaller carriers which own significant frequency blocks, but lack the buying power to convince vendors to tailor new LTE devices to their overlooked spectrum.

In a posting on AT&T’s Public Policy Blog, Joan Marsh, AT&T’s Vice President of Federal Regulatory Affairs commented: ‘These challenges are well-documented and real … Some have argued that the technical and physical limitations of the band should simply be ignored, and have called for sweeping interoperability mandates. Such mandates would be an unprecedented regulatory intrusion into a carrier’s right to manage network and device deployment in a manner best suited to serve its customers … AT&T welcomes this proceeding to the extent that it offers an opportunity to find real solutions to the real interference and deployment challenges in the band. Only real solutions will support robust deployment of LTE services in the A-block and only real solutions will lead to true interoperability throughout the lower 700 MHz band. The industry deserves and, quite frankly, should accept nothing less’.