Dish-backed 12 GHz plan returns to 5G stage

While Dish Network is busy positioning itself as the fourth facilities-based carrier in the U.S., a group of industry organizations is asking the FCC to revisit a petition Dish and others filed four years ago that would make more mid-band spectrum available for 5G.

In 2016, the MVDDS 5G Coalition, comprised of 11 entities including Dish and MDS Operations, petitioned the FCC (PDF) for a rulemaking that would make the 12 GHz band available for increased sharing with existing direct broadcast satellite (DBS) services to allow use for new 5G services. Dish holds licenses in the band covering 75% of the U.S. population and RS Access, after purchasing it from MDS in 2018, holds licenses covering 15%.

Citing the FCC’s recent efforts to expand commercial use in mid-band spectrum, the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA), Public Knowledge, Open Technology Institute at New America, INCOMPAS and the Computer & Communications Industry Association on Tuesday submitted their support (PDF) for updating the technical rules for the 12.2-12.7 GHz band.

“Prompt action on this long-pending Petition will support the Commission’s goal of identifying and unleashing additional spectrum for the development of 5G wireless technologies,” they told the commission. “We believe that now is the time to consider the Petition and, through that rulemaking, address any interference concerns stakeholders may have by allowing this spectrum to be available for two-way, mobile and fixed 5G wireless broadband services.”

RELATED: Could 12 GHz be next big mid-band spectrum opportunity?

The 12 GHz band offers 500 megahertz of contiguous, mid-band spectrum with significant propagation advantages over millimeter wave spectrum, and “we understand that increasing current power limitations in the band and allowing two-way use would result in little or no disruption to existing co-primary operations,” they said. Plus, the lack of federal encumbrances in the band creates a clear path for bringing the spectrum to market quickly and efficiently, they added.

Before it filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this year, OneWeb called the MVDDS coalition’s petition “critically flawed” and said (PDF) it threatens to “drastically alter” the operating environment in the Ku-band and undermine billions of dollars invested by OneWeb and others.

Prior to that, Dish told the commission (PDF) to reject OneWeb’s “unsupported claims” that it must operate in the 12 GHz band for its yet-to-be-launched service, especially given OneWeb has long been on notice that the commission could take further action to optimize the 12 GHz band for terrestrial 5G use.

Dish and AT&T’s DirecTV are the main users in the 12 GHz band, but they also have access to the Ka- and lower portion of the Ku- bands. When DBS first started, the satellites were mostly in the Ku portion of the band.

RELATED: MVDDS 5G Coalition accuses OneWeb of stifling 5G terrestrial uses of the 12 GHz band

DirecTV and Dish are using the 12 GHz band for linear television programming; in the case of DirecTV, the preponderance of its transponder capacity looks to be in the Ka band, between 18 and 20 GHz. Both are losing subscribers in the satellite TV market, and while Dish has pushed for changes in the 12 GHz band, AT&T has resisted (PDF).

Why now?

The FCC has resolved a lot of thorny frequency issues for mid-band spectrum, including the CBRS 3.5 GHz band and C-Band. With those largely done and auctions teed up, “there’s been a lot of frequency initiatives taking up a lot of time at the commission, so I can understand that this could not be something they could take a look at until those things are largely done,” said V. Noah Campbell, founder of RS Access. (RS Access is backed by MDS Capital, a private investment firm established in 1998 to exclusively manage the assets of Dell Technologies CEO Michael Dell and his family.)

A lot of constituencies were involved in those earlier items, including in the case of Ligado, where the FCC conditionally approved its plans for terrestrial use of its mid-band spectrum in the face of strong opposition from the U.S. Department of Defense and other stakeholders concerned about potential interference with military GPS devices.

“We don’t have similarly complex technical issues,” Campbell said. “It’s relatively straightforward.”