FCC explores using 12.7-13.25 GHz for 5G, other uses

The FCC last week launched a proceeding to explore repurposing up to 550 megahertz in the 12.7-13.25 GHz band for next-generation wireless services, a move that was applauded by the wireless industry trade association CTIA.

The FCC said the 12.7 GHz band, as it’s calling it, is believed to be ideally suited for mobile broadband use as it’s already allocated for terrestrial mobile services on a primary basis domestically.

In its Notice of Inquiry (NOI), the FCC noted that while there are a number of incumbent uses in the band, overall the band appears to be lightly used. Currently, the 12.7 GHz band is shared among fixed microwave services, broadcast auxiliary services, cable television relay services and fixed satellite services.

The NOI seeks comment broadly on the current use of the 12.7 GHz band and how some or all of this spectrum could be made available for mobile broadband and other expanded use. It’s also looking into how new entrants could share the band with incumbent users and/or incumbent users could be relocated to other spectrum or technologies.

But it’s not the 12.2-12.7 GHz spectrum

The 12.7-13.25 GHz band is not to be confused with the 12.2-12.7 GHz band, which has been generating a lot of headlines in recent months. Some have proposed calling the 12.7-13.25 GHz band the “13 GHz band.” 

In a statement, CTIA thanked FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel for moving forward with the 13 GHz band for commercial mobile broadband.

“In addition to evaluating spectrum in the 7-16 GHz range, CTIA appreciates the commission’s continuing efforts to develop a pipeline for licensed, exclusive-use spectrum—particularly in the mid-band—to support 5G,” said CTIA Senior Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Scott Bergmann in a statement shortly after the FCC’s vote on Thursday. “CTIA looks forward to working with the commission toward Congressional action on a future pipeline to support rapidly growing needs and capture 5G’s potential.”

One of CTIA’s members, Dish Network, has been heavily involved in the “other” 12 GHz band issue, or the 12.2-12.7 GHz, where it’s been embroiled in a high-profile fight with SpaceX. Joining Dish in backing the 12 GHz band for 5G are more than 35 entities in the 5G for 12 GHz Coalition.

Last month, the coalition said it agrees with FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel in recognizing the qualities of the 12 GHz band that make it well suited for 5G and stands ready to work with the FCC to deploy the adjacent 12.2-12.7 GHz band for terrestrial 5G.

Public Knowledge, one of the members of the 5G for 12 GHz Coalition, last week applauded the FCC for moving to leverage the 12 GHz band and look for new ways to share access to spectrum for mobile broadband and Wi-Fi. But it also urged the commission to issue an order authorizing shared use in the “lower” 12 GHz band.

“Opening the lower 12 GHz in addition to the upper 12 GHz would potentially make over 1,000 MHz of spectrum available for advanced services,” said Public Knowledge Policy Counsel Kathleen Burke in a statement.

Dish uses the 12.2-12.7 GHz band for its satellite TV business and it bought terrestrial rights to the spectrum almost 20 years ago. But it’s been advocating since 2016 for the FCC to change the rules for the band so that it can be used for two-way mobile services.   

It’s being depicted as a way for the U.S. to win the global 5G race.

“For us, as a country, not to put to work 500 megahertz of spectrum at that frequency band, we think is an imperative to continue to win that race, and Dish and other owners of the spectrum have advocated for this change for quite a while,” said Dish EVP of Corporate Development Tom Cullen during the Incompas 2022 event in Denver last week.

Incompas also is a member of the 5G for 12 GHz Coalition. “We submitted exhaustive engineering studies and we just think it’s good public policy and it’s time to act,” Cullen said.