FCC boosts Sprint LTE plans with 800MHz decision

28 May 2012

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has voted to remove technical restrictions on the 800MHz frequency band, allowing mobile operators to utilise the spectrum for 3G and Long Term Evolution (LTE) services. According to Fierce Wireless, a five-member board made the decision on Thursday, voting unanimously in favour of the plans, which will affect all holders of 800MHz Specialised Mobile Radio (SMR) licences. The decision alters the FCC’s rules to allow geographically-based SMR licensees to operate across contiguous channels, without a rigid channel spacing requirement or bandwidth limitation. Until now, the restrictions have limited operations using the 800MHz band to 2G services.

One of the prime beneficiaries of the decision is likely to be Sprint Nextel, which has previously expressed an interest in deploying LTE services over its 800MHz spectrum by 2014; the band currently houses Sprint’s iDEN network, which is set to be phased out as part of the latter’s multi-billion dollar ‘Network Vision’ upgrade scheme. Last month, at a press briefing hosted by senior company executives it was revealed that the company had already received 3GPP certification for ‘Band Class 26’ to re-use its 800MHz spectrum for LTE, placing the ball in the FCC’s hands.

Interestingly, the technical limitations actually date back to an older FCC order, which was introduced before Sprint merged with Nextel in 2005. Vonya McCann, senior vice president of government affairs at Sprint, commented: ‘Today’s unanimous vote by the FCC paves the way for Sprint and other 800MHz licensees to deploy advanced 3G and 4G technologies in the band’.