Thursday, December 05, 2019

FCC Should Green Light Wireless Services in L-Band Spectrum

According to reports, the FCC reportedly has prepared a draft order approving mobile wireless operations in unused L-Band spectrum. A November 18 letter by the Defense Secretary reportedly disagrees with the FCC's proposal on certain points and repeats views already known to the Commission when it prepared the draft. The Commission has ultimate responsibility over the spectrum, and the agency should be undeterred in approving its draft order so that long fallow valuable L-Band spectrum can be put into commercial use. 

It's important to our nation's economy and its quest for global leadership in wireless to free up as much spectrum as possible for 5G and other advanced mobile services. If approved, Ligado Networks' modified applications would put 30 MHz of L-Band spectrum to use, generating economic benefits potentially between $250 and $500 billion. In July 2018, Free State Foundation President Randolph May and I submitted reply comments in the Commission's proceeding, recommending Ligado's applications be approved. 

Ligado's modified applications to deploy a hybrid satellite-terrestrial wireless network present the FCC's best near-term opportunity to make available lower-middle-band spectrum for next-generation mobile services – including 5G. As research firm LightShed Partners has explained: "Ligado's spectrum offers incremental wireless data capacity, which is needed not only for the ongoing wireless data growth on existing LTE networks but also to enable higher use 5G customers. LightShed has identified the potential for C-Band and mmWave spectrum to be paired with Ligado's L-Band spectrum for uplinks using dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS), thereby enhancing the value and opportunities for LTE and 5G in those higher bands. According to LightShed, "Ligado could supply an operator like Verizon with at least two years of wireless data growth on a network," and it could similarly help meet T-Mobile's capacity needs. 

The Commission submitted a draft order regarding Ligado's L-band applications to an interagency advisory review board in October. The review is set to conclude on or about December 6. Given that the review is ongoing and also that the Department of Defense is a member of the interagency board, it's unusual that Defense Secretary Mark Esper went outside the process and released to the press his November 18 letter. The letter claims that Ligado's proposed network would cause interference with services in other bands – claims the Defense Department previously made to the Commission in a June 2019 letter. Ligado has previously disputed those interference claims, and the Commission surely considered them in reaching its own conclusion on the matter. 

In some ways, the Defense Department's last-minute public rehash of old arguments is reminiscent of tactics used by other agencies attempting to derail the FCC's implementation of its 24 GHz spectrum band plan even after the auction was concluded. It's not unusual for government agencies or other institutions to have different viewpoints on technical matters. To avoid permanent interagency gridlock, federal law gives to the Commission the final say on how spectrum for non-government purposes will be used. In the case of the 24 GHz band, the Commission refused to be deterred and has followed through on its spectrum plan.

The Commission should show the same determination in the case of the L-Band. The agency should now proceed with dispatch to act on Ligado's modified applications.