Ericsson, pdvWireless urge FCC to take quick action on 900 MHz band

Ericsson and pdvWireless are among those urging the FCC to act quickly to allow broadband services in the 900 MHz band.

The commission earlier this year opened a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on restructuring the band. In the NPRM (PDF), the FCC proposes to realign the 900 MHz band in such a way as to allow broadband services for industry IoT applications, critical infrastructure and private broadband networks.  

According to Ericsson, incorporating a broadband allocation in the 900 MHz band will provide greater flexibility by allowing the use of applications—such as Voice over LTE, Narrowband-IoT (NB-IoT) and Mission Critical Push-To-Talk over LTE—with greater capacity and device density.

“It should also be noted that critical industries have a strong interest in several of these applications as they provide an evolution path from legacy networks to broadband while retaining traditional services,” Ericsson told the commission in a May 31 filing (PDF). “The 900 MHz band is very attractive for facilitating this transition… In addition, this low-band spectrum is ideal for LTE because of its propagation characteristics, and because the band overlaps the 3GPP Band 8 standard/the GSM 900 band, it is therefore expected to take advantage of international harmonization and economies of scale globally to provide equipment—meaning quicker deployments and cheaper equipment and devices.”

pdvWireless, the company that was created by the founders of Nextel Communications, has attached a sense of urgency to getting new rules adopted. Cyber-security is one of the drivers of this, with utilities in need of their own private LTE networks that 900 MHz is well-suited to serve.

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When this process started in 2014, LTE was identified as a technology with a lot of potential and now, just five years later, it’s available at significantly lower cost due to global scale. The “E” in LTE stands for “evolution” and most of the 4G networks are forward compatible with 5G, so it stands to reason that at some point in the future, these networks also will evolve to 5G, noted pdvWireless President and COO Rob Schwartz.

In the meantime, utilities are stepping up in industry forums and elsewhere to discuss their needs for broadband and private communications. pdvWireless also is a member of the Utility Broadband Alliance (UBBA), which recently launched with about 19 members, including vendors like Cisco, Ericsson, Motorola, Federated Wireless along with utilities.

“There’s a massive movement within the utility and critical infrastructure space driving toward broadband networks and specifically private broadband networks,” Schwartz told FierceWirelessTech.

pdvWireless in 2014 acquired Sprint’s 900 MHz spectrum, which made it the largest holder with a nationwide footprint of licenses in the band. Many of the licensees in the 900 MHz band are critical infrastructure entities such as utilities and energy companies.

“900 MHz is the ideal spectrum to solve the crisis that they are currently facing,” said pdvWireless CEO Morgan O’Brien. “Obviously, it’s good for us because we have the spectrum and we want to make the spectrum available.”

Citizens Broadband Radio Services (CBRS) is another way to support private LTE networks, but it uses the 3.5 GHz band and requires several times as many base stations as 900 MHz, according to O’Brien. That means if a utility operates large far-flung facilities, it would be too expensive to operate everything at 3.5 GHz, he said, adding that he was not minimizing the importance of CBRS at certain locations where utilities need capacity and coverage.

“We can be 100% in favor of below 1 GHz LTE deployments” and at the same time 100% supportive of CBRS for some of the use cases where the economics can work, he said.

Of course, the proposed changes will affect incumbents, which won’t have to pay for retuning, but they will experience the disruption, O’Brien acknowledged. However, pdvWireless points out that the NPRM sets out a carefully calibrated transition approach for the 900 MHz band, one that would allow incumbent licensees to maintain narrowband facilities if they’re best-suited for their operating requirements while offering a broadband option for those who need it.

Relocating the operations of freight railroads, pursuant to the nationwide 900 MHz authorization held by the Association of American Railroads (AAR) (PDF), will require particular attention, but pdvWireless said it’s confident that the FCC will recognize the unique character of AAR’s operations and provide appropriate relief.

It will be up to the chairman of the FCC to decide whether to circulate an item or schedule a vote on the 900 MHz NPRM in a public meeting. Either way, according to pdvWireless, time is of the essence.

“To me, all of the issues have been thoroughly vetted,” O’Brien said. “It seems like now is the time to meet the demand and finalize these rules.”