Should FCC Open Up 900 MHz Band for Broadband, IoT?

The FCC is proposing to open up the 900 MHz band for other uses, specifically broadband and the Internet of Things (IoT). In a Notice of Inquiry, the agency asks for input on appropriate rules changes to increase spectrum access, improve spectrum efficiency and expand flexibility in the 896-901/935-940 MHz band (900 MHz band) for next generation technologies and services. The band was designated in 1986 for narrowband private land mobile radio (PLMR) communications by Business/Industrial/Land Transportation (B/ILT) licensees and Specialized Mobile Radio (SMR) providers, with systems in place today.

A review of the Commission’s Universal Licensing System database shows approximately 2,700 900 MHz B/ILT sites (i.e., facilities operating on B/ILT channels that have not been converted to SMR use) licensed to approximately 500 licensees. Examples of 900 MHz B/ILT licensees include entities engaged in land transportation, utilities, manufacturers, and the petrochemical industry. The distribution of B/ILT sites across the United States is shown on the map shown above. While the service is used throughout the country, the greatest number of stations are in the coastal Northeast, the Carolinas, the Atlanta region, Florida, the Great Lakes region, the Gulf Coast area, coastal Washington State, and throughout California.

The Commission asks for comment on what new services could become available if commercial use in this band is expanded. “In particular, are there low-bandwidth Internet-of-Things (IoT) applications that might benefit from the propagation characteristics of the 900 MHz band but which do not squarely fit within the B/ILT eligibility requirements?” the agency asks in the text. It also seeks comment on the demand for such services and whether that can be met more efficiently in other bands.

The agency wants input on whether a portion of the 900 MHz band should be designated for broadband operations, and if so, the potential impact on current users. What would be a suitable bandwidth, taking into account the evolution of wireless technical standards like LTE, it asks? The agency asks, for example, would 3 x 3 megahertz paired blocks be sufficient to create a commercially viable broadband service. Comments to WT Docket 17-200 are due by September 18 with replies by October 18.

August 12, 2017

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