WISPs catch a break in CBRS transition

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) took the heat off a lot of smaller fixed wireless service providers when it extended the deadline for certain licensees in the 3650-3700 MHz band to transition their existing Part 90 operations to the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) band standards.

The Part 90 licensees were required to make their transition before April 17, 2020, but will now have until October 17, 2020. The FCC said this will not impact the timing of the June 25 auction of Priority Access Licenses in the 3.5 GHz CBRS band.

“Granting this temporary extension will enable Part 90 licensees to focus on continuing to provide high-speed broadband and other critical services during this national state of emergency,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in a statement. “This is a logical delay of the transition during the pandemic to ensure that current licensees, like WISPs and electric utilities, can keep their eyes on the ball when it comes to helping consumers. We can allow this flexibility while still maintaining a reasonable timeline for this transition. I’m also pleased we could find a way to grant this relief without impacting this summer’s important 5G auction.”

The move comes after the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) sought a blanket waiver requesting additional time for 3.65 GHz licensees to transition their operations to Part 96 CBRS. Licensees had told the commission that they were having a hard time making the April 17 deadline for various reasons, even before the pandemic shuttered nearly everything.

Midcontinental Communications (Midco), for one, was affected by the transition. The company only recently learned that the Baicells first-generation CPE that it purchased and installed will not be certified under Part 96, so it has to swap that out at a time when the coronavirus and weather are affecting its ability to do that.  

RELATED: Midco, others scramble to replace gear for CBRS

WISPA said the complexity and several-year delay of certifying, developing and integrating numerous interdependent parts to make the CBRS band a reality threw the overall transition process off schedule and out of kilter. 

The CBRS band only recently saw full commercial deployment, two years behind what was anticipated, and this had a cascading effect on the rest of the process, with the hardware, software and services ecosystem just now coming online. 

“Further, WISPs recently learned that some popular pieces of equipment they employ in the 3.65 GHz band will never become CBRS compliant,” WISPA said in a statement. “The COVID-19 crisis has only added to these challenges, limiting supply of CBRS-compliant gear. On the whole, the delays and supply-chain issues have greatly attenuated building-season, pushing much of the transition work – which entails the physical process of changing out tower and CPE equipment – into inhospitable winter months, and making the initial transition date impossible for many WISPs to reasonably achieve.”

WISPA Vice President of Policy Louis Peraertz said the limited waiver will help customers – many of whom reside in unserved and underserved rural areas – stay connected while also allowing a more reasonable glide path for WISPs to transition equipment and services to the standards of the CBRS band.

“The waiver will minimize the adverse effects of the CBRS band’s requirements on those presently operating 3.65 GHz services without compromising the public interest benefits of new CBRS services – providers may more readily become CBRS-compliant; their customers won’t be dropped off the network; and new CBRS deployment will not be hampered by lingering 3.65 GHz transition issues,” Peraertz added.