C-Band Alliance: Now it’s 300 MHz

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The C-Band Alliance (CBA) has moved decisively towards the FCC preferred release of 300 MHz of spectrum over the US. The CBA had previously insisted that it could only manage to clear 200 MHz (180 MHz + a 20 MHz ‘guard band’).

The spectrum is being cleared to help the deployment of 5G cellular technology over the USA.

The CBA says its 300 MHz plan (280 MHz + 20 MHz ‘guard band’) could see 100 MHz cleared in 46 top metropolitan areas within 18 months of an FCC order, and 280 MHz throughout the continental US within 36 months from a CBA-led auction. The CBA would tap into new technologies, in particular HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding) for further signal compression.

A key phrase is that of a “CBA-led auction”. Despite some objections it now seems almost certain that the FCC will rule in favour of the CBA’s overall proposal, including permitting the CBA to hold a market-based auction of spectrum.

The FCC has argued that the 5G industry needed a minimum 300 MHz of spectrum to be released.

One other key aspect still to be determined is exactly how much it will ‘cost’ the CBA in its voluntary payment to the US Treasury of part of its inevitable windfall financial gains – which are likely to extend into the many billions of dollars. Most observers expect a 25 per cent payment of windfall funds.

The CBA says: “As it completed the work necessary to enhance its proposal, the CBA collaborated closely with US broadcasters and programmers that serve nearly 120 million American homes via the C-band. This work included analyzing the potential use by some customers of technologies such as advanced modulation, single format transport and advanced video compression, including High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC). Each of these technologies improves the efficiency of satellite video delivery, allowing the same video content to be transmitted over less spectrum. The CBA proposal commits to implement these technology upgrades at no cost to those satellite customers implementing them.”

Speaking on behalf of the C-Band Alliance, Intelsat CEO Stephen Spengler said, “Throughout this nearly two-year process, we have sought to work collaboratively as peers, to be responsive to the goals of US policy makers seeking spectrum for 5G, and to work closely with our customers to protect their transmissions and understand their current and future network needs. Over this time, compression technology has continued to commercialise. We are confident that we can deliver a solution that not only maximizes the clearing of mid-band spectrum to enable 5G in the US, but also fully funds a spectrally-efficient, next-generation compression infrastructure for programming distribution in the US. This solution represents unprecedented coordination among satellite operators, our customers, and the FCC, and we look forward to delivering to the US an accelerated 5G deployment and the innovation and high-technology job growth that the deployment of 5G is expected to generate for the US economy.”

The C-Band Alliance comprises Intelsat, SES and Telesat. Eutelsat, although not now a member, is expected to track FCC and CBA developments closely.

The funds raised by an auction will be part-used to pay for upgrades and filters to be fitted to thousands of C-band dishes across the USA and also to order eight new satellites to replace the freed-up bandwidth. These overall tasks are estimated to cost around $2.5-$3.5 billion.


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