Ericsson CEO stresses importance of C-band

It’s been a busy week for Ericsson, having disclosed it will apportion $1.23 billion in its third quarter 2019 earnings to cover costs related to a corruption investigation by U.S. officials.

But CEO Börje Ekholm did make time to meet with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and his wireless legal advisor to discuss spectrum issues, including the importance of the C-band for operators’ mid-band spectrum needs.

“Not only is timing important, but Ericsson would like to see enough spectrum in the band made available to serve multiple operators with 100 MHz channels,” the company wrote in an ex parte filing (PDF).

Also present in the meeting were Ericsson North American CEO Niklas Heuveldop, CTO Erik Ekudden and VP of Government Affairs and Public Policy Jared Carlson. They also met with FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr and his legal advisor for wireless issues, where they discussed (PDF) similar themes.  

The reference to the amount of spectrum Ericsson wants to see made available is noteworthy because that’s been a sticking point throughout the C-band proceeding. Ideally, each operator would get access to 100 megahertz of the spectrum.

The C-Band Alliance (CBA) has offered to make 180 megahertz available with a 20 megahertz guard band but hasn’t budged in terms of making more available. An alternative proposal by ACA Connects, supported by the Competitive Carriers Association and Charter Communications, would clear 370 megahertz of C-band spectrum for 5G.  

ACA Connects representatives met with the FCC on September 23 and discussed (PDF) a supplement to its 5G Plus Plan, with further details on how they’re proposing a fiber network for video delivery that would match or exceed the reliability and quality provided today by the C-band. ACA Connects insists that no other plan comes close to what it’s proposing, including in terms of dollars for the U.S. Treasury.

Peter Pitsch, head of Advocacy and Government Relations for the CBA, said in a statement that the goal of the C-band proceeding is to find a solution that clears and assigns C-band spectrum, efficiently and expeditiously, enabling 5G services in the U.S. as fast as practicable.

“The ACA Connects’ “top-down” proposal would foist a fiber-based concept on the entire video distribution system by an arbitrary date,” he said. “The CBA plan remains the best way to balance all of these important priorities. A marketplace approach will better enable 5G access to spectrum nationwide where efficient and at the same time protect the existing delivery of video and radio content to nearly 120 million American homes.”

In prepared remarks before the Americas Spectrum Management Conference this week, FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly defended the CBA proposal.  

“Most of the criticism of what is known as the CBA Proposal shows a lack of understating of how the internal Commission works,” O’Rielly said. “For instance, the argument has been made that the FCC should conduct a public auction for these frequencies rather than allowing the private sector to do it.  Please don’t anyone try to lecture me on the Commission’s supposed efficiency and timeliness in conducting auctions.”

Given what’s already in the pipeline and how long it takes for the commission to set up and operate an auction—"we are talking years – and I mean years – before completion. We can certainly ensure transparency, accountability, fairness, and openness without having to run the auction ourselves,” he said, acknowledging that the argument has been made that it is unfair for private, foreign satellite companies to receive all of the proceeds from any spectrum auction, private or public.

“In the end, my primary concern is getting the C-band reallocation done as expeditiously and thoughtfully as possible so it can advance the U.S. 5G efforts,” he said. “If someone or some entities make a profit for being in the right place at the right time, I will live with that outcome. In the grand scheme of things, if it is a contest between speed and the government trying to extract a significant piece of the transaction through a lengthy process, I’ll take the speedy resolution.”

O’Rielly said the FCC is near completion of its review process and is finalizing details for its reallocation, which should come later this fall. Chairman Pai also said during Thursday’s FCC meeting that he’s optimistic that the commission later this fall will be voting on an order to make a “significant amount” of spectrum in the C-Band available for 5G. 

The commission has three more open meetings scheduled before Dec. 22, the first day of winter.