Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai has announced that the repurposing of 3.7GHz C-band spectrum for 5G services will move forward on an accelerated timeline. In a public notice, the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau confirmed that it has secured commitments from all eligible satellite operators to meet an accelerated clearing timeline that will make way for faster 5G deployment in the 3.7GHz band. In February, the FCC adopted rules designed to free up 280MHz of C-band spectrum for 5G use. Specifically, the rules required existing satellite operators to ‘repack’ their operations from the band’s entire 500MHz into the upper 200MHz; allocated the lower 280MHz for terrestrial flexible use; and provided for a 20MHz guard band in between.
Moreover, the FCC has provided five eligible space station operators serving the contiguous United States with the opportunity to clear the lower 300MHz of the band on an accelerated timeframe in exchange for accelerated relocation payments. With all five eligible satellite operators – Eutelsat, Intelsat, SES, Star One, and Telesat – having voted for ‘accelerated relocation’, the accelerated timeline has been triggered. Specifically, these companies must first clear 120MHz of spectrum in 46 Partial Economic Areas (PEAs) by 5 December 2021. In a second phase, they must clear the lower 120MHz in the remaining PEAs, plus an additional 180MHz nationwide, by 5 December 2023.
If the companies fulfil these commitments, they will be eligible for up to USD9.7 billion in accelerated relocation payments plus reasonable relocation costs, paid for by the new flexible use licensees. Had the satellite operators not chosen to accept accelerated relocation payments, the deadline for clearing the lower 300MHz of the band would have been 5 December 2025.