While Elon Musk’s on Twitter, the 12 GHz band coalition plays on

While Elon Musk is distracted with all things Twitter these days, the folks who want the 12 GHz band for 5G aren’t letting anything stand in their way. 

Some of them took advantage of the Big 5G stage in Austin, Texas, this week, to advance their 12 GHz cause, going so far as to compare the 12 GHz band to the state of Texas in terms of the size of the opportunity.

The 12 GHz band has been making headlines for a while now. In 2020, SpaceX CEO Musk thought it was important enough to discuss it in a conference call with then-FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. These days, Musk’s on-again, maybe-off-again bid for Twitter’s business is all the buzz.

And for the folks advocating for 5G at 12 GHz? “It hasn’t been a distraction for us,” V. Noah Campbell, CEO and co-founder of RS Access, told Fierce. “We’re just going through the process and we’re working with a wide variety of constituents” in the 12 GHz coalition. “We’ve just been doing the same thing we’ve always done. We’re proving out the engineering, proving out co-existence in the band and talking about the value of the frequency for 5G leadership.”

The 12 GHz band even came up during Dish Network’s March 10 analyst day in Las Vegas. At one point near the end of the hours-long event, Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen noted that it’s the only full 500 MHz band probably in the next decade that’s going to be available and it’s not currently being used by the Department of Defense (DoD).

“We paid at auction for the terrestrial rights. We paid at auction for the satellite rights,” he said, proceeding to make an analogy about playing a game of Monopoly where somebody is bound to land on some of Dish’s properties since it’s amassed so much.

Clearly, it’s a priority at Dish, as the 12 GHz band was a topic that Ergen, as well as Dish EVPs Tom Cullen and Stephen Bye, discussed with the FCC in early May just as Dish was launching its first 5G market of Las Vegas, according to ex parte filings.

Dish and RS Access are the biggest holders, respectively, of MVDDS licenses that have been the subject of a petition before the FCC since 2016. They’d like to see the rules changed so that their licensed spectrum can be used for two-way 5G. But they’re not the only ones interested in using it for 5G. The band currently is used by satellite incumbents, and the Dish/RS Access camp believes it can be used by both satellite and 5G without harmful interference.

In an interview with Fierce this week, Chip Pickering, co-chair of the 5G for 12 GHz Coalition and CEO of INCOMPAS, echoed Ergen’s comments, saying it’s the biggest block of spectrum that’s unencumbered, which means no federal users like the DoD, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) or Department of Transportation (DoT) are using it or close enough to cause conflicts.

But aren’t they just backing Dish Network and RS Access then, since they’re the two biggest holders of the MVDDS spectrum that’s in play here?

The 12 GHz band is so big that a CBRS model could be applied to make it more usable for a greater number of entities, according to Pickering. “That’s why this band is so important,” he said. “It is the Texas of the spectrum nation. It is the biggest block out there,” and it’s not being used efficiently right now.

INCOMPAS isn’t advocating for an auction. The fastest way to deploy this spectrum and maximize the use of it is by not having to go through a long auction process, Pickering said. That’s similar to the reasoning at Dish, which claims it already paid for its right to use the band and doesn’t want to see an auction. 

Dish and C Spire are members of INCOMPAS, as are Amazon and Microsoft. T-Mobile is not a member of INCOMPAS, but it agrees that dual-use 5G and satellite use is possible in the 12 GHz band. However, T-Mobile also advocates for an auction rather than seeing a “windfall” go to the likes of Dish.

USTelecom opposition

Technical studies that have been submitted to the FCC show it can be used for 5G without harmful interference to incumbents, according to the 12 GHz for 5G proponents. The incumbent users of the band disagree, however. Just this week, the broadband association USTelecom submitted comments to the FCC reiterating its opposition to requests to use the 12.2-12.7 GHz band for mobile broadband.

Pickering said INCOMPAS has more than 80 member companies, and they’ve very diverse. For example, he noted that CTIA is primarily for wireless carriers. USTelecom involves incumbent telecom companies like AT&T. NCTA is all about cable companies.

“What makes INCOMPAS different is that we represent those national, rural, regional fiber companies,” as well as cloud, broadband, fixed wireless, small cell and tech companies, so a wide swath, he said.

“As our name implies… we encompass all the networks, all the technologies, all the business models, so 12 GHz for us represents an opportunity for each of our member companies to use [12 GHz] in partnership and in their own stand-alone deployments,” he said. A lot of rural and regional member companies see the combination of fixed wireless and fiber as the most economical solution for broadband connectivity, he added.

5G for 12 GHz Coalition members have said they were encouraged by answers given by FCC commissioners, including Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, during a recent House Energy and Commerce FCC oversight hearing. During the hearing, Rosenworcel acknowledged that satellite operations have received authorization from the agency to launch constellations of hundreds or thousands of satellites using several frequency bands, including the 12 GHz band.

Right now, the FCC is considering the criteria that should be used for assessing interference between mobile and satellite services. A wide range of legal, technical and policy experts from the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, International Bureau and Office of Engineering and Technology are engaged in this review, and coordinating, as necessary, with other federal authorities in the process, according to Rosenworcel.