When the everyday consumer thinks of wireless communication, they’re thinking about the complexities that go into making a phone call or web search; it’s click and go. If you pull back the curtain a bit, you will see a “spectrum,” an essential component of every wireless operator’s network. The spectrum refers to radio frequencies that wireless signals travel over and allow us to search, stream, text, and connect to our entire world.
Since 5G has become more prevalent and the demand for faster, more robust networks has been at an all-time high, businesses across the U.S. have been banding together to gain more spectrum allocation for the wireless industry. More recently, the 5G for 12 GHz Coalition, which includes DISH Wireless, has been asking the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to change the rules for the 12 GHz band to be used for both 5G and satellite service providers. The 12 GHz band is currently allocated for use by satellite providers only, but the 5G for 12 GHz Coalition believes the spectrum could be used safely for both 5G and satellite services.
FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel was recently asked about this during an FCC oversight committee hearing, giving hope to the coalition. Rosenworcle said that the petition is one of the most complex dockets at the commission. DISH has led the charge for this initiative since 2016 but has drawn some vocal opponents, most notably SpaceX.
Rosenworcel mentioned that the 12 GHz band has always been used to host fixed satellite systems and direct broadcast satellite and multi-channel video data distribution systems. She said, “Now we might want to add mobile broadband to the mix.”
“As you might imagine, that’s going to take a lot of technical work to make sure that the airwaves can accommodate all those different uses without harmful interference,” Rosenworcel said. She also mentioned that some of the data used from the International Telecommunications Union are 30 years old, so they would need to be updated and then re-access if satellite services and 5G can live in harmony on the 12 GHz spectrum.
“We have satellite policies we’re going to have to update,” she said. “And once we identify harmful interference, we’ll have to model what it looks like and try to come up with standards for where satellite terminals can be compared to 5G systems. These issues, to be candid, will take time, but they take time because they’re really important, and we need to do them well.”
Representative Darren Soto from Florida asked a follow-up question referencing the presence of SpaceX, NASA, and other entities, as well as the connectivity from StarLink across the U.S. Soto, said, “Unfortunately, sometimes we see speculators that are proposing to repurpose the 12 GHz spectrum that these satellite operators use.” He continued, “It would be great to hear of your continued support for this critical spectrum use by satellite systems to help with the very isolated areas in both Florida and in areas across the world.”
V. Noah Campbell, the founder, and CEO of RS Access, recently told FierceWireless that he’s encouraged by what Rosenworcel has said as of late. Campbell’s firm backs the studies the coalition presented to the FCC, showing that both satellite and 5G can coexist safely in the 12 GHz band. “I think it’s excellent,” he said. “We’re totally confident in the analysis that we put in the record. We appreciate the work the OET is doing.”
There isn’t much spectrum being allocated for 5G services, which is why there’s such a fight for the 12 GHz spectrum re-allocation. DISH Wireless holds the highest number of licenses for this particular piece of spectrum, with RS Access falling in second. RS Access is unsure of how it will use its licenses in the future, with Campbell noting, “We’re looking for guidance from the commission and from the decision-makers as to what we’re going to be able to use these frequencies for,” he said. “We don’t know what we can use it for.”
It’s unclear what direction the FCC will take, but the 5G for 12 GHz Coalition is only getting bigger and stronger. In 2021, the coalition only had 23 members; now, it’s 35, with the most recent member being the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society.
New Street Research analyst, Blair Levin, said that a win for the coalition would be pretty meaningful for DISH Wireless because it would provide a lot more spectrum that it could use for its 5G buildout. Levin also noted that the FCC doesn’t have many options to increase spectrum availability for 5G. Per the details of the infrastructure bill, there are funds directed to study the allocation of the 301-3.45 GHz band, but the FCC can’t auction any more real estate until November 2024. Levin wrote, “Thus, 12 GHz is one of the few bands the first term Biden FCC can use to increase 5G spectrum availability.”