The C-Band Alliance (CBA) says it is happy to assure its smaller regional and rural clients (that is, non-Tier 1 carriers) that capacity for their efforts to support rural broadband and help address the digital divide across the US will be made available. But the spectrum will need to be bought.
The CBA is looking after negotiations with the FCC for the release of 180 MHz (plus an extra 20 MHz of the so-called ‘guard’ band) of satellite-based C-band spectrum for the potential re-use by US 5G telco operators.
Equity analysts at investment bank Barclays, in a note to clients on December 10th, and referring to a detailed response issued last week by the CBA, say that this extra capacity is completely new. “We see this as a concession to the proposal of the Broadband Access Coalition to overlay a fixed wireless point to multipoint downlink offering for rural broadband in the 3.7-4.2 GHz band. The CBA has been saying since the beginning of this process that any plan to overlay point to multi-point fixed wireless services on spectrum that is being used for video transmission would cause too much interference,” stated the bank’s analyst Nick Dempsey.
The CBA’s statement, issued last week, said: “The C-Band Alliance is committed to insuring that smaller regional and rural carriers (i.e., non-Tier 1) have access to valuable mid-band spectrum for 5G services. To facilitate that goal, the C-Band Alliance plans to create a block of spectrum solely for the use of smaller regional and rural carriers. The C-Band Alliance is already actively engaged in conversations with the aforementioned carriers to more fully understand their concerns.”
“According to our source, we understand that the CBA has set aside this slice of spectrum for secondary market agreements with regional and local carriers. However, this will be a small fraction of the overall amount given what is needed in metropolitan areas. And the spectrum will not be ‘free’ but has to be paid for in the likely auction that the CBA is seeking, and will not encroach in any way on the 300 Mhz that is NOT included in the likely market-based approach to the restructuring of the spectrum.”
“This special commitment does not mean, however, that we compromise with our position that P2MP (Point-to-Multipoint) overlays in the C-band spectrum are impossible and disruptive. We firmly reject such overlays in the spectrum that we suggest continuing to operate, i.e. the upper 300 MHz. When it is about the 200 MHz that we suggest to vacating, it could well be that carriers – also P2MP – that operate regionally or locally enter into Secondary Market Agreements with us for using small parts of the spectrum, in last-mile connectivity, for example. It is mandatory, however, in any such agreements and in all cases that carriers respect the technical parameters set forth by the CBA and the principles of the market-based approach which is that spectrum goes to its highest value use,” says our source.
In essence, the CBA stresses that it will only free up 200 MHz in total (180 MHz + 20 Mhz ‘guard’ band). This ‘so-called’ extra capacity is simply a potential protection of some modest capacity within the overall 180 Mhz.
However, Barclays, in its note, says the CBA and its members (Intelsat, SES, Eutelsat and Telesat) have yet to fully determine the amount of spectrum for smaller regional and rural telcos, and says it is not yet known how much spectrum might be allocated. “Intelsat is saying that this is to be determined once they have had conversations with the relevant operators. We doubt very much that the CBA would be suggesting this if there was much chance that it would eat up any more than a small chunk of the 180MHz that they plan to sell to national players,” says the bank’s note, and admitting it is seeking more clarity on the CBA’s position.
“The fact that [the CBA] have chosen to make this concession may mean that we are closer to the end of this process,” says the bank. “We think that the market is absolutely expecting the CBA’s approach to win out. But there may still be some relief if that is confirmed by the FCC.”