Dish, RS Access lead new coalition in fight over 12 GHz band

Invoking the U.S.-versus-China race to 5G, a group of organizations and companies, including Dish Network, urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to expeditiously update the rules for the 12 GHz band and pave the way for the U.S. to shoot past China when it comes to spectrum for 5G.

Formally known as the 5G for 12 GHz Coalition, the group launched on Wednesday, one day after the FCC announced its approval of a modification request by SpaceX, one of the main opponents to the coalition’s plans. The 5G for 12 GHz Coalition is not to be confused with the 12 GHz Alliance, which includes SpaceX, OneWeb, Kepler Communications, Intelsat and SES.

Opening 500 MHz in the 12 GHz band “will take us from losing the current race with 5G with China to winning the race,” said Chip Pickering, CEO of Incompas and co-chair of the coalition, during a conference call with reporters.

“This really is a test of whether we are going to use science and engineering” to guide decisions like this and what’s in the best interest of the American public rather that politics, personality and power, said Joe Lockhart, co-chair of the 5G coalition.

“I can assure you that no one on this call represents someone who will be hosting Saturday Night Live,” he added, referring to the scheduled SNL host Elon Musk on May 8.

RELATED: Debate over 12 GHz intensifies after C-band jackpot

The 5G Coalition for 12 GHz has ties to an earlier coalition, the MVDDS 5G Coalition led by Dish, one of the major holders of MVDDS licenses, and RS Access, the second largest holder of MVDDS licenses. That group also lobbied the FCC to expeditiously change the rules for the 12 GHz band, which doesn’t currently host two-way terrestrial communications.

Organizers behind the 5G for 12 GHz Coalition emphasized their group is made of a diverse set of entities representing trade organizations, public interest groups and telecom companies. The group launched with 20 members. 

In January, the FCC voted unanimously to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) seeking comment on ways the 12 GHz band might be better used. The NPRM asked for input on possible methods for allowing new uses in the band while protecting incumbents.   

SpaceX gets modification for satellites

The 5G group received a setback on Tuesday when the FCC announced an order approving a modification application submitted by SpaceX for its Starlink internet service.

The commission is going to allow SpaceX to launch and operate satellites at an altitude that is lower than SpaceX first proposed. However, the FCC told SpaceX that its approval is conditional on how the 12 GHz NPRM turns out. “SpaceX proceeds at its own risk,” the FCC said in its order.

Even though RS Access wanted the FCC to reject SpaceX’s modification request, it remained optimistic.  

“Their current authorization is conditioned on the outcome of the NPRM and the use of the term ‘proceed at your own risk’ I think are really strong indicators of the FCC preserving optionality here around the 12 GHz NPRM. They said ‘we don’t want to prejudge it either way,’” and the FCC put SpaceX on notice that the rules could change, RS Access CEO and founder V. Noah Campbell told Fierce.  

Boils down to technical analysis

Dish has been in the direct broadcast satellite (DBS) business for decades and it’s confident that the band can co-exist with 5G terrestrial users. As Dish is building out an open Radio Access Network (RAN) nationwide 5G network, “we think 12 GHz could be an important part of our buildout,” to use it for fixed, mobile and backhaul, said Jeff Blum, EVP External & Legislative Affairs at Dish, during the conference call with reporters.

“I think it’s going to come down to the technical analysis,” Blum said. The results of a technical analysis from the 5G camp will be shared publicly on May 7. “We believe that 5G can co-exist with DBS operations and not adversely interfere with Dish or DirecTV operations and DBS is the primary in the band. We also believe that you can have NGSO operations in the band at the same time as 5G, and there will be co-existence there.”

As an organization supportive of the opportunities for unlicensed and opportunistic sharing as well as for increased competitiveness in the mobile industry, “I think it’s important for people to recognize that there’s a lot going on here, and this isn’t just Charlie Ergen versus Elon Musk,” said Harold Feld, SVP at consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge. He said the 12 GHz proceeding is about a lot of different potential uses for the band that the FCC should authorize if the engineering supports it.

When there’s a band like this with 500 MHz of contiguous spectrum, it should not lie fallow, Feld said. Existing users need to be protected, and while he’s aware of what analysts are saying about the dwindling nature of the DBS business, a lot of people, for the foreseeable future, rely on it for video services, particularly in rural areas.

The desire is for satellite services, such as those offered by SpaceX, to succeed as well, because that results in more broadband choices for rural communications, and that’s good. But as consolidation has hit the mobile market, more competition is needed, and it’s important to find wide enough channels to support advances in Wi-Fi as well, he said.

Here’s the complete list of 5G for 12 GHz Coalition members:  Incompas, Public Knowledge, Dish, Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), RS Access, Open Technology Institute at New America (OTI), Federated Wireless, AtLink, Cambridge Broadband Network Groups (CBNG), Center for Educational Innovations, Center for Rural Strategies, Etheric Networks, GeoLinks, GoLong Wireless, Granite Telecommunications, mmWave Tech, Resound Networks, Rural Wireless Association (RWA), Telnet Worldwide, Tilson, White Cloud, Xiber and X-Lab.