NPR Calls Sharing C-Band a ‘Non-Starter’

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NPR last week told the FCC, the Public Radio Satellite System depends on satellite distribution using C-Band spectrum, to deliver programming and public safety information to its interconnected stations, producers and distributors. “Without satellite delivery for the interconnection system, the U.S.’s nationwide public radio and public safety information distribution systems would cease to exist,” the broadcaster tells the Commission in a filing.

The broadcaster is reacting to the FCC exploring the feasibility of opening up the C-band (3.7 to 4.2 GHz band) frequencies for 5G use, based on interest by both wireless and satellite companies. The agency seeks comment to GN Docket 18-122 by May 31, and replies by June 15, Inside Towers reported. Commissioner Michael O’Rielly recently suggested the agency consider freeing up 200-300 MHz of C-band spectrum and urged his colleagues to get a proposed rulemaking out this summer to explore issues like licensing. 

However, sharing the spectrum is a “non-starter,” according to NPR, because no proven interference protections are available to its uplink and downlink operations. The broadcaster reviewed alternative delivery systems and said they are too expensive and disruptive. The cost of a combination terrestrial network and satellite/internet delivery system, where available, would be $200 million, compared to the cost of upgrading its current satellite/internet delivery system at $53 million. NPR further noted that there are rural and remote areas of the country where fiber does not reach and there are no alternatives to satellite distribution (regardless of cost).  

Intelsat, Intel and SES Americom have proposed a way they say the C-band and 5G can coexist; in a meeting with the agency, they described C-band operations today and the challenges of preventing 5G transmissions from saturating the low noise block of C-band earth station transponders. They highlighted that their goals are to preserve 5G’s in-band power flexibility and reduce operational constraints while protecting Fixed Satellite Service (FSS) operations in the remaining band. They are working with mobile equipment manufacturers to address technical trade-offs.   

The companies reinforced that the 100 MHz near-term clearing target for terrestrial mobile use is what each operator can “accomplish reasonably within 18-36 months” following a final Commission order, while ensuring the continued availability of reliable service to existing video customers. The ability to clear additional spectrum, “would be substantially more expensive and time consuming, but could be achieved if market conditions are sufficiently favorable,” they said.

In contrast, T-Mobile praised the Commission’s recent decision to freeze applications for satellite stations in the 3.7-4.2 GHz band in support of the potential reallocation of that spectrum for mobile wireless use. However, even if the Commission takes the actions that T-Mobile and others recommend, the carrier says use of the band will be “limited,” which is why T-Mobile believes the agency should make more mid-band spectrum available for wireless use.

by Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

May 8, 2018

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