FCC Torn in Two Directions— Update 3.5 GHz CBRS Rules or Leave Them As Is


The uncertainty over the status of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s rules for 3.5 GHz has created some unease in the wireless industry. This mid-range frequency has been a subject of concern for the past couple of months from members of the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) Alliance.

The CBRS Alliance is an organization working towards creating LTE-based CBRS solutions to expand both in-building and outdoor building coverage and capacity. The 40+ member alliance includes Google, Intel, and Ruckus, as well as the four major U.S. carriers. Some of the carriers have voiced concerns that the FCC’s current 3.5 GHz rules might stand in the way of 5G progress.

In a recent filing, T-Mobile requested that the FCC update the 3.5 GHz rules, in order to ensure that they will “better facilitate deployment of Fifth Generation (5G) technologies.” The carrier maintains that “in order for T-Mobile and others to make the 3.5 GHz band a success, the Commission must modify its rules to enhance the utility of the band for 5G licensed services.” Top T-Mobile executives met with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and Commissioners Michael O’Reilly and Mignon Clyburn to discuss the details of the changes they want to see implemented.

Primarily, T-Mobile desires changes in the license terms of Priority Access License (PAL). Currently it’s a three-year license with no right to renewal. T-Mobile suggests that a ten-year license term should replace it—with the ability to renew.

On the other hand, 18 companies including Google, Microsoft, and American Tower are pleading with the FCC to keep the 2015 rules for 3.5 GHz —and collectively wrote a letter to the FCC to convey this. As of June 1, this letter is being reviewed but no action has been taken. The primary concern for these companies is that any significant changes could discredit their investments and discredit the finality of these rules.

T-Mobile seeks to license 3.5 GHz and auction it off. Companies like Google and Microsoft want this frequency to remain unlicensed so they can continue to use it without cost. This should be of interest to landlords and commercial developers too, because if 3.5 GHz remains unlicensed, then anyone could potentially set up their own private in-building network.

For shared broadband wireless use of the 3550-3700 MHz (otherwise known as the 3.5 GHz Band), a new Citizens Broadband Radio Service was created in April 2015 as a part of the Report and Order and Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. Currently CBRS is run by a three-tiered spectrum authorization framework which consists of:
Incumbent Access (including those who are grandfathered in with the highest level of protection)
Priority Access (can be protected from GAA users)
General Authorized Access (GAA) (open to any device approved by the FCC)

ConnectedREMag will keep you updated on the latest 3.5 GHz CBRS news via our weekly emails and on Twitter @connectedremag.

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