Dish, AT&T object to SpaceX and T-Mobile’s spectrum request

In April, the Federal Communications Commisssion’s Space Bureau and Wireless Telecommunications Bureau opened a proceeding to accept comments on filings of SpaceX and T-Mobile to establish supplemental wireless coverage from space.

T-Mobile and SpaceX first announced their intention to work together on satellite-to-mobile coverage in August, 2022.

To move forward, SpaceX is requesting a modification of its license to add cellular communications capability on 7,500 of its Gen2, low-Earth-orbit Starlink satellites. 

SpaceX seeks to operate using the 1910-1915 MHz (Earth-to-space) and 1990-1995 MHz (space-to-Earth) bands for links to end-user devices. This is also called “G-Block” spectrum.

Interested parties had until June 2 to make comments to the FCC on this issue.

It was surprising when AT&T filed comments on May 18 expressing concern that SpaceX and T-Mobile’s plan might interfere with the delivery of terrestrial wireless services.

“Terrestrial services are inherently more robust than limited SCS [supplemental coverage from space] service offerings,” wrote AT&T. “Allowing SCS operations to interfere with or replace existing co-channel terrestrial services would thus degrade service quality and reliability for American consumers.”

Curiously, AT&T’s comments show concern about interference to T-Mobile’s terrestrial operations. 

AT&T wrote, “The Commission should seek clarification from SpaceX regarding how it will ensure that its service will not cause interference to other authorized terrestrial services, including T-Mobile’s own operations in the PCS G Block.”

Why does AT&T care whether T-Mobile suffers from interference issues due to its work with SpaceX?

Cynics might wonder if AT&T is just trying to delay the progress of T-Mobile and SpaceX on space-to-mobile supplementary coverage.

For its part, AT&T is working with AST SpaceMobile to pursue its own interest in space-to-mobile communications.

In its comments, AT&T said it has submitted several notification forms to the FCC's Wireless Telecommunications Bureau saying that it will lease certain spectrum to AST for the provision of supplemental satellite services.

AT&T has previously told Fierce Wireless that AST’s satellites will not transmit in areas covered by AT&T’s terrestrial cellular network.

Other objections to T-Mobile and SpaceX’s collaboration

Dish Network, which is no friend of SpaceX, also filed comments with the FCC, urging it to dismiss or deny SpaceX’s application.

Among its concerns, Dish said SpaceX has failed to explain how it will avoid excessive out-of-band emissions in the adjacent H Block and AWS-4 spectrum licensed to Dish.

“Given the risk of harmful interference to existing adjacent bands and adjacent country and international services, SpaceX must provide all the facts now, on the front end, before the Commission moves forward with any application,” wrote Dish.

The Rural Wireless Association also filed comments saying it was concerned that T-Mobile’s and SpaceX’s proposed operations may cause adjacent channel interference to licensees’ mobile and fixed network operations in the 1895-1910 MHz and 1975-1990 MHz bands (“PCS C-Block”) in rural and remote areas.

T-Mobile and SpaceX rebuttals

T-Mobile has responded to objections, saying “The T-Mobile consumer handsets that will communicate with SpaceX satellites will be the same handsets that operate today on T-Mobile’s terrestrial network. Thus, no further demonstrations regarding the potential interference from T-Mobile’s handset operations are necessary.”

It also said there is no basis to require either SpaceX or T-Mobile to demonstrate the potential impact of SpaceX’s SCS service on T-Mobile’s network, calling AT&T’s concerns “disingenuous.” 

In a lengthy response to all the parties that oppose SpaceX’s application, SpaceX wrote, “Unfortunately, a few parties hoping to build competing systems also resort to the growingly common tactic of trying to have the Commission force SpaceX to make public unrelated proprietary information for unnecessary but competitively harmful reasons.”