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Satellite concerns over 5G decision in US

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has ruled that four terrestrial frequency bands above 24 GHz can be used for new 5G services. It sets the stage for 5G’s expansion in the US.

However, the frequencies – which total some 11 GHz of spectrum – include bands which are also used by satellite operators who have frequently said that opening up these already approved frequencies for satellite usage will create interference risks for the industry and consumers. The FCC says that satellite usage, in particular of the important 28 GHz band, “was secondary” but that its rights will be protected.

The FCC’s report states: “We have carefully considered the opposition from certain satellite interests to allowing mobile use in this band, but tentatively conclude that those parties have not presented a valid basis for rejecting mobile use in this band. While those parties argue that they need regulatory certainty in order to invest in their systems, authorizing mobile use would not deprive FSS operators of any reasonable expectations they had of access to spectrum. Under our current rules, FSS use of this band is secondary to LMDS. Furthermore, this band has a co-primary mobile allocation throughout the world. The investments satellite operators have made in Ka-band operations were made with knowledge of their secondary status. The primary reason there has been little discussion of mobile use in this band is that there has not been any technology that would allow for mobile use of the millimetre wave bands such as this one. As that technology develops, it is unreasonable for us to preclude mobile use of this band solely because of pre-existing secondary use. Finally, we note that the satellite operators that oppose use of the 27.5-28.35 GHz band do not propose a comparable alternative band for mobile use.”

The FCC added: “We also reject the argument that the 28 GHz band should not be considered for mobile use because the US band plan has not been replicated in other countries. While we recognise the benefits of international harmonisation, we also understand that not every country will be able to designate exactly the same bands for similar uses because they will have a different needs and incumbent uses. We note that international equipment vendors such as Samsung, Huawei, and Alcatel-Lucent are looking at this frequency range for mobile use. Furthermore, the worldwide co-primary mobile allocation for this band is also an important factor that supports mobile use of this band.”

The Satellite Industry Association, in a statement, said: “SIA recognizes the FCC’s efforts to address some of the significant concerns of the satellite industry about the potential for interference to existing and planned satellite systems in the frequency bands planned for shared use between 5G terrestrial and satellite services,” said Tom Stroup, President of SIA. “SIA is also encouraged by the provisions pertaining to earth stations operating in the 28 GHz band but still has concerns regarding potential aggregate interference. We look forward to working with the FCC further and appreciate the Commission’s willingness to revisit this issue as needed. There are many sophisticated technical issues posed by this rulemaking, and we are eager to fully evaluate the rules that have been adopted.”

Satellite currently plays an integral role in the delivery of wireless broadband technologies by serving millions of US customers, including in underserved and unserved areas of the country. The industry also looks forward to providing a similarly crucial role in bringing 5G services to all Americans.”

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