FCC Moving on Commercial Use of 3.5 GHz Band; Proposals for Spectrum Facilitators Sought


The FCC recently released a Public Notice, seeking proposals for Spectrum Access System (“SAS”) Administrators and Environmental Sensing Capability (“ESC”) Operators, which will facilitate commercial operations in the 3550-3700 MHz band (“3.5 GHz Band”).   The FCC will begin accepting proposals on January 15, 2016.   The deadline for submission of the “first wave” (i.e., priority) proposals is April 15, 2016.

SASs and ESCs are essential components of commercial 3.5 GHz frequency utilization; authorized use of the band cannot commence until they are in place.   SASs will serve as highly automated frequency coordinators across the 3.5 GHz entire band, protecting higher tier users from harmful interference from lower tier users, and optimizing frequency use.   ESCs will consist of networks of sensors that will detect the presence of signals from federal systems in 3.5 GHz Band and communicate that information to the SASs to protect existing federal operations.

The FCC’s solicitation of SAS and ESC proposals is a milestone in moving the 3.5 GHz authorization process forward.   New commercial operations in the band will likely commence sooner rather than later.   Commercial use of the 3.5 GHz band presents numerous business opportunities for service providers and equipment suppliers alike, especially for those that get on board early.  

By way of background, in April 2015, the FCC released a Report and Order (“R&O”) containing new rules that will allow varied and flexible commercial uses of the 3.5 GHz band.   Among other things, the new rules: (a) establish a new commercial radio service called Citizens Broadband Radio Service (“CBRS”); (b) implement a three-tiered spectrum authorization framework to facilitate a variety of broadband uses on a shared basis with incumbent federal and non-federal users; and (c) impose specific technical requirements on equipment utilizing the 3.5 GHz Band.

The new 3.5 GHz rules and polices provide a very low barrier to entry for potential wireless service providers.   Unlicensed operators will have access to many frequencies and will not have to incur the expense of bidding on spectrum.  Licensed operators will be subject to spectrum auctions, but with very small geographic service areas, the per-license costs should be less than licenses issued in other spectrum auctions.

Opening of the 3.5 GHz band for commercial use will spawn a strong demand for a new generation of RF equipment.   CBRS will advance the use of low-power small cell technologies, including Long-Term Evolution for unlicensed spectrum (“LTE-U”) and License Assisted Access (“LAA”).  These technologies and others will enable mobile broadband operators to efficiently extend their service coverage and increase network capacity, which in turn will require sophisticated, smart transmitters and end-user equipment.  The new FCC rules require that all transmission equipment used by CBRS carriers (i.e., Citizens Broadband Service Devices (“CBSD”)) have specific, standardized capabilities.

Operations in the 3.5 GHz Band are governed by a new Part 96 of the Commission’s Rules.  Nearly all of the new rules were made effective as of December 16, 2015.  

For more information concerning SAS or ESC proposals, 3.5 GHz operating authorizations, or equipment regulation, please contact Ronald E. Quirk at (703) 714-1305 or req@commlawgroup.com.

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