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FCC Decision on 3550-3700 MHz Band

By a unanimous 5-0 vote, the FCC today adopted new rules to allow shared commercial use of the 3550-3650 MHz band and continued use of the 3650-3700 MHz band by incumbents.


At a high level, the rules and technologies that will allow commercial entities to share spectrum with federal military operations represents a “new paradigm” in spectrum policy.  It can be the foundation for other bands that are allocated for other uses but are underutilized.  Here is a link the FCC’s News Release:


3650-3700 MHz

As previously discussed, the FCC will grandfather existing equipment indefinitely, meaning that there will be no forced upgrade to newer equipment that communicates with the Spectrum Access System (SAS) (see below).  During a transition period that will last the longer of five years or the duration of an existing 3650-3700 MHz non-exclusive license, existing licensees will have Incumbent Access status for locations registered as of midnightlast night if those facilities are placed in operation within one year.  (By the way, I understand that 5,000 new registrations were filed yesterday and I was reminded in a “walk down the hall” conversation about the one-year build-out requirement.)  Although the details are not clear, it appears that incumbents will not be subject to a “freeze” on new deployments (which was in the draft Order), but will have some rights to expand their registered operations during the transition period.  This was something we fought for until the very end, and it appears we achieved some measure of success on this point.  Also, there will be no Priority Access Licenses (PALs) in the 3650-3700 MHz band, just Incumbent Access and General Authorized Access (GAA), which will be license-by-rule (similar to unlicensed).


During the transition and once the SAS is established, 3650-3700 MHz incumbents and others will have the opportunity to operate under new Part 96 rules.  These rules will require communication with the SAS and the ability of devices to operate across the entire 150 MHz.


3550-3650 MHz

In this band, the SAS will have three tiers of spectrum access – Incumbent Access (military and satellite earth stations), PALs (similar to licenses) and GAA.  In this 100 MHz, PALs will be capped at 70 MHz and no one entity can have more than 40 MHz of PAL in a given census tract (the baseline geographic unit).  PALs will be awarded for three-year, non-renewable terms, and applicants can obtain two three-year PALs (i.e., six years) at the first auction.  GAA will have exclusive shared use of the remaining 30 MHz and opportunistic use of PAL spectrum when not “in use” (see below), as determined by the SAS.


Operations in this band will roll out in two phases:

  1. Operation outside of exclusion zones at low power
  2. Higher power operations (we hear 47 dBm EIRP) once a sensing network is established to protect radar facilities

Exclusion zones will be 77% smaller than what was originally proposed thanks to the efforts of the FCC, NTIA and the Defense Department.  We don’t yet know how “rural” is defined, and attempting to get greater rights in Phase I was a non-starter given military concerns about aggregate interference to ground-based Army radar systems across the country.  We will need to see the fine print on this, though the FCC expects that a sensing network will be built alongside the SAS and that Phase I will be just a “blip” before moving to Phase II.  I am concerned that as the ecosystem focuses on small cells, the interest in promoting higher power operations in rural areas will subside and may not be supported.  We will need to look at the Order carefully and, as necessary, re-engage with the FCC and NTIA on this.


Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking

The Order also includes a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on three items: (12) protection zones for fixed satellite earth station incumbents, (2) secondary market transactions involving PALs, and (3) the definition of “in use” for determining when and where GAA can be used opportunistically.


Public Notice

Chairman Wheeler announced that the FCC would release a Public Notice in the next 30 days to invite comment on LTE-U and LAA, which involve the use of LTE frequencies in unlicensed spectrum.


Stephen E. Coran


This article was summarized and written by Stephen Coran, a great advocate for Wireless Internet Service Providers.

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