Verizon fights for timely C-band transition

Intelsat is asking for changes in the C-band relocation process, and Verizon is having none of it. The telco told the FCC last week that what Intelsat is asking for would end up delaying network planning for new 5G services and slow the C-band transition.

Verizon noted that the recent announcement by the White House to reallocate an additional 100 megahertz of spectrum in the 3.45-3.55 GHz band is a welcome development in the race to 5G, but the C-band remains a critical element. It’s the largest swath of mid-band spectrum that’s likely to be reallocated to support 5G for many years, and the FCC should do everything in its power to complete the C-band auction and transition on time, according to the operator.

Intelsat filed a petition for reconsideration back in May after the FCC published a Report and Order spelling out plans to relocate satellite players into the upper 200 MHz of the C-band. The satellite company said if certain issues were left unaddressed, it could result in the loss of some existing satellite services and put satellite safety at risk.

Among its requests, Intelsat urged the commission to move the Telemetry, Tracking and Command (TT&C)/Gateway site consolidation deadline of December 5, 2021, out to 2023 because an 18-month consolidation window “simply is not achievable” given the time and resource-intensive activities that are required.

In Verizon’s August 13 filing (PDF), it stated that the commission carefully constructed the C-band order to ensure a smooth transition to clear spectrum for 5G, including relocating incumbent satellite operations while maintaining at least the same level of service for their customers. “Now, instead of focusing on the complex and crucial task at hand, Intelsat and others are re-litigating issues already thoroughly considered and decided by the Commission,” Verizon wrote.

Specifically, Verizon pointed out that Intelsat asked the commission to reconsider protected use of the full 500 megahertz of C-band spectrum for international gateway operations at consolidated TT&C Gateway sites. The commission provides protection for TT&C operations through December 5, 2030, at four consolidated TT&C sites, but it rightly rejected calls for international gateway operations to be protected, according to Verizon. 

RELATED: FCC approves C-band auction procedures

Intelsat explained in its May petition (PDF) and reiterated in the transition plan (PDF) submitted to the FCC last week that it wants continued access to 500 MHz at two consolidated TT&C/Gateway sites on a protected basis, so that it can ensure C-band service continuity to customers.  

It’s not surprising but interesting that Verizon is on the same page as rival T-Mobile when it comes to the gateway sites. Verizon referenced T-Mobile’s previous comments (PDF) when it told the commission that it’s already granted gateway services significant protections for the next decade. “But Intelsat’s requests to skirt the Commission’s rules threaten to derail the transition and delay access to mid-band spectrum critically needed for terrestrial mobile services,” Verizon told the commission.

Need for speed

Of course, Verizon needs the C-band spectrum more than T-Mobile, which acquired a boatload of 2.5 GHz mid-band spectrum with the Sprint merger. Both Verizon and AT&T have a chance to narrow T-Mobile’s spectrum advantage with the CBRS auction, which is now underway, and the C-band auction, which is scheduled to start on December 8.  

The two auctions offer a total of 350 megahertz. To level the playing field completely, Verizon would need 200 MHz and AT&T would need 140 MHz, with T-Mobile getting nothing, New Street Research analyst Jonathan Chaplin pointed out in a report earlier this month.

“In other words, the big guys need just about all of it. Tough to do. The more they get the better, and the more T-Mobile gets the more they lock in their advantage," Chaplin wrote.

The New Street analysts say T-Mobile ought to use all available resources to prevent Verizon and AT&T from getting what they want. Even though T-Mobile is sitting on that pile of 2.5 GHz, it shows no signs of easing up on the C-band, having been an early and aggressive player.

Before others jumped on the bandwagon, T-Mobile’s Vice President of Government Affairs Steve Sharkey pointed out that the satellite players were looking for a “windfall” in their attempt to stage a “market-based” approach to freeing up the spectrum. T-Mobile countered the C-Band Alliance’s  proposal with one of its own, saying it would be better for U.S. taxpayers and mobile broadband providers.

In a note for investors today, MoffettNathanson said the C-band is the only realistic path to assembling a block of 100 MHz or more of continuous mid-band spectrum for the foreseeable future, and Verizon needs it if it’s to keep pace with T-Mobile.

The firm’s updated model for Verizon assumes it spends $16.25 billion on C-band in 2021, but that’s just a placeholder. “If anything, it is likely that they spend even more, either for an even larger block, or perhaps for a second spectrum band, in a lower frequency, for uplink spectrum to pair with 5G,” wrote analyst Craig Moffett.