SpaceX attacks Dish for ‘flaws’ in 12 GHz argument

While Dish Network is calling for a win all around in the 12 GHz proceeding, SpaceX is blasting Dish once again, this time for what it calls a flawed study perpetuated among “a Dish-bankrolled coalition,” among other things.

Sure, the battle pits the likes of Elon Musk and Charlie Ergen against one another, but it’s also about much more, including terrestrial versus satellite services and who gets to claim the highest and best use of the 12 GHz spectrum. The FCC, after all, has warned satellite companies that changes could be in store for the 12 GHz band, which currently isn’t set up for two-way 5G terrestrial services. Of course, SpaceX makes a point about that as well.  

Reiterating its view that Dish is asking for a “windfall” when it comes to the spectrum – and make no mistake, the term “windfall” is mentioned at least 29 times in SpaceX’s July 7 filing with the FCC – SpaceX said it’s up to Dish and its allies to show their proposed use of the spectrum won’t harm the satellite companies. (Fierce covered Dish’s July 7 comments here.)

In fact, SpaceX told the commission that it should “move expeditiously” to terminate the Multichannel Video Distribution and Data Service (MVDDS) licensees, of which Dish is the biggest one, because it’s a “failed service” encumbering next-generation satellite services that are trying to put the spectrum “to its highest and best use.”

The comments come as the FCC is contemplating future uses of the 12 GHz band through a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) process that started earlier this year. Dish and RS Access, which also owns MVDDS licenses, have been pushing the FCC for years to change the rules so that they can use the spectrum for 5G, which currently is prohibited under the rules.

Satellite companies, including SpaceX, want to use the band for their own next-generation satellite services, like Starlink, which they argue already are serving hard-to-reach areas of the country with broadband. The FCC is gathering comments from all sides on the issues, and ultimately, it will be up to the FCC to decide the fate of the band and its current and intended users.

RELATED: Dish declares 'win-win-win' for 12 GHz band

SpaceX said it’s on Dish and its camp to show their expanded use of the spectrum won’t harm the satellite operators, and it points to Dish’s long history of spectrum hoarding as one reason it shouldn’t be trusted. In the opinion of SpaceX, the technical study entered into the record by RS Access is not only flawed but relies on inaccurate assumptions about non-geostationary satellite orbit fixed satellite service (NGSO FSS) operations.

“Despite RS Access’s and its paid economic consultants’ extensive efforts to claim that the 12 GHz Band is somehow crucial to delivering 5G across America, RS Access’ own technical study and its comments make one thing clear: for terrestrial use purposes, 12 GHz is not C-band; any deployment more closely resembles millimeter wave, of which the Commission has already released nearly 5,000 megahertz of exclusive use (not shared, as with satellite licenses) spectrum, with more on the horizon at 26 and 42 GHz,” wrote SpaceX in its filing.

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

It contends that while RS Access’ comments, the RKF Study, and Dish’s comments “never come close to an actual proposal,” they all strongly imply that terrestrial use would be comprised of supplemental capacity near macrocell nodes, small-cell deployments in high-density, high-traffic urban areas, and limited point-to-point wireless backhaul from macrocells and small cells in urban environments.

“By the MVDDS Licensees’ own admission, the 12 GHz Band could only be used for millimeter wave-type deployments, using frequencies whose propagation characteristics resemble those of millimeter wave frequencies,” SpaceX added. Even using the most optimistic valuation for the spectrum, it wouldn’t come anywhere near justifying the costs of deploying the number of base stations and small cells needed to provide services with the 12 GHz band, according to the satellite company.

Here are a few other assertions that SpaceX makes:

  • “Considering DISH’s long history of accumulating spectrum and failing to use it, allowing the 12 GHz Band to land in its warehouse would virtually guarantee it sits fallow for the foreseeable future.”
  • Regarding the coalition of other companies that are in Dish’s corner, SpaceX says: “The most that can be said of this so-called coalition is that its members agree on the groundbreaking proposition that '5G is good.' In fact, SpaceX agrees with this uncontroversial proposition. But this 'consensus' has absolutely nothing to do with giving the 12 GHz Band to spectrum speculators at the expense of customers of next-generation satellite services.”
  • Dish also “continues to lean on boilerplate language in satellite licenses that states that the rights granted therein are subject to future Commission decisions.” According to SpaceX, “as many have pointed out, that fact is true for all licenses for all services in all bands, with or without such a condition. If anything, NGSO use of the 12 GHz Band is more secure than most services in other bands because the Commission has issued multiple decisions over the past year confirming this use, including in the NPRM in this proceeding.”

SpaceX isn’t the only entity opposing changes to the 12 GHz band that favor terrestrial 5G users. While the 5G Coalition for 12 GHz argues that the band can be shared among 5G and other users, Google and Microsoft argue that’s not the case.

Google, which is an FCC-approved Spectrum Access System (SAS) administrator for the 3.5 GHz Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) band, said it has gained valuable insights by protecting satellite operations from interference caused by CBRS base stations. It’s “highly skeptical” that protecting NGSO and Direct Broadcast Satellite (DBS) earth stations from 5G base stations and “unconstrained mobile deployments in the 12 GHz band,” as suggested by some commenters, “is a realistic plan to enable materially usable mobile service.”

According to Microsoft, the study submitted by RS Access admits that NGSO FSS user terminals will experience harmful interference nearly 1% of the time, which is enough to impair the operation of key NGSO use cases and Microsoft’s own planned services. “A key error is that the study extrapolates the potential value of the 12 GHz band from C-band auction revenues rather than the millimeter wave bands, which would have been the appropriate comparison,” Microsoft told the commission.