FCC to consider lower 12 GHz band for fixed wireless

At its next open meeting, the FCC will consider a proposal that would prevent 5G mobile services from using the 12.2-12.7 GHz band but possibly allow terrestrial fixed use or unlicensed use in the band.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel on Wednesday released the agenda for the May 18 open meeting and outlined a proposal that ties the 12.2-12.7 GHz band with the 12.7-13.25 GHz band.

“The commission will vote on an Order that would preserve the 12.2-12.7 GHz band as a home for next-generation satellite broadband operations by rejecting proposals to introduce ubiquitous, high-power mobile operations in the band,” she stated. “At the same time, we propose further investigation of expanded terrestrial fixed use or unlicensed use in this 500 megahertz band. Moving up to the 12.7-13.25 GHz band, we propose repurposing some or all 550 megahertz of this spectrum for new mobile broadband or other expanded use.”

Those two sentences don't include a lot of the details that stakeholders are looking for, so they're waiting to see the full written order, which could be available as early as today. An FCC spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.

12 GHz stakeholders

Alongside Dish Network, RS Access has been working over the past several years to get the FCC to authorize 5G operations in the 12.2-12.7 GHz band. They argued that sharing the band with incumbent satellite users should be allowed.

V. Noah Campbell, co-founder and CEO of RS Access, on Wednesday commended the FCC’s “drive to unlock over 1,000 MHz of spectrum between 12.2 - 13.25 for fixed wireless applications.”

“Chairwoman Rosenworcel’s announcement brings us one step closer to modernizing long-outdated rules that will vastly expand the 12 GHz band’s potential. Her actions are perfectly timed to unlock the band as billions of federal dollars are set to change the broadband landscape through the BEAD program,” Campbell said in a statement. “We applaud the move to quadrupling the national availability of mid-band spectrum for fixed wireless—days after CTIA released a report on the urgent need to bring more spectrum to market.”

Implications for Dish

Like Dish and RS Access, the 5G for 12 GHz Coalition has been pushing for the FCC to allow sharing the lower 12 GHz band between satellite and terrestrial 5G services. The coalition had not yet released a statement at the time of this posting.

Some analysts already had an idea which way the FCC was leaning. In a note for investors in March, New Street Research (NSR) analyst Blair Levin said there appeared to be an emerging consensus that the order would not allow terrestrial mobile use. He said that wasn’t based on any discussions with the FCC but on a reading of the record and speaking with advocates on all sides about the state of play.

NSR figured that the FCC’s ultimate solution would consider the lower and the upper 12 GHz bands in a wholistic way for increasing the intensity of use across the entire 1000 MHz of spectrum. That apparently is what’s happening.

As for implications for Dish, Levin said such an outcome it would limit the upside to Dish because it wouldn’t be able to use the spectrum for its own mobile services or potentially trade or sell it to bolster its spectrum or capital position. “While it may be able to eventually to use the spectrum for fixed terrestrial uses, it is far from certain how valuable that will be, given uncertainty about the power levels,” he said.

Last year, Rosenworcel described the technical review of the 12 GHz band as one of the most complex dockets at the commission.

Dish and RS Access petitioned the FCC to update the rules for the band many years ago, and since then, SpaceX has ratcheted up its interest in the 12 GHz band for Starlink. It even launched a massive campaign enlisting Starlink users to lobby the FCC directly about their reliance on the band.

Last month SpaceX accused Dish and RS Access of abandoning their quest to have the FCC “hand them new rights” for high-powered terrestrial mobile services in the band and instead switching their positions to use the band for high-powered fixed operations. Dish and RS Access denied that’s what was happening, saying they’ve been interested in both mobile and fixed services.