FCC Seeks Comment on Expanded Use of the 12.7 GHz Band for Next Generation Wireless Services

On October 27, 2022, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) adopted a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) and Order to explore opportunities for the expansion of wireless services in the 12.7-13.25 GHz (12.7 GHz) band. The NOI seeks information on existing and potential future uses of the 12.7 GHz band, potential methods for sharing the band, and the potential impact on operations in adjacent bands. The Order extends the temporary freeze on applications in the 12.7 GHz band and clarifies that the International, Media, Public Safety and Homeland Security, and Wireless Telecommunications Bureaus retain jurisdiction to modify the freeze.

The Commission views the NOI as “the first step in providing for more intensive use of the 12.7 GHz band,” signaling its interest in opening the band for mobile broadband and other wireless services. NOI, ¶ 2. Below, we provide additional background and context on the NOI, and summarize questions on which the FCC seeks feedback. Comments will be due on November 28 and Reply Comments will be due on December 27.

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Background. The NOI arises in the context of continued demand for mobile broadband. The Commission views the 12.7 GHz band as a prime candidate for mobile broadband or other expanded uses for two reasons. First, mid-band spectrum in the 12.7 GHz frequency range has favorable propagation characteristics, considerable capacity, and allows for channel reuse. It also has superior building penetration and reduced clutter loss compared to high-band spectrum. Second, the band is allocated already for terrestrial mobile services on a primary basis domestically. NOI, ¶ 3.

Potential Methods for Sharing the Band. The FCC seeks comment on various options for sharing the 12.7 GHz band, with an eye toward striking the appropriate balance between minimizing disruptions to incumbent users and addressing the need for mobile broadband services. Among other things, the Commission seeks comment on “what methods of sharing could suit the ecosystem of the band and best minimize the potential for harmful interference between existing and potential licensees,” and “whether there are new technological advancements, including recent or anticipated equipment features or other alternative technologies, that could facilitate mobile broadband or other expanded use and minimize the potential for harmful interference with incumbent operations.” NOI, ¶ 14.

The Commission invites input on a range of potential sharing methodologies. For example, the Commission seeks comment on whether “static sharing, in frequency, time domain, and/or geography, work for mobile broadband or other expanded use in the 12.7 GHz band,” and if that would not be effective, whether the Commission should consider “a dynamic sharing model, in which entities share spectrum in time, frequency, and geography,” or some combination of the two. NOI, ¶ 16.

Potential sharing methodologies include:

  • Database or other spectrum management system similar to those used for devices in the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) or for unlicensed white space and 6 GHz devices; NOI, ¶ 17.
  • Nationwide, nonexclusive licensing regime similar to that used in the 70/80/90 GHz bands; NOI, ¶ 20.
  • Application of a long-term sensing technology, as proposed in the Lower 37 GHz proceeding; NOI, ¶ 21.
  • Alternate sharing approaches, such as partitioning the 12.7 GHz band into sub-bands. NOI, ¶ 22.

Sunset of Incumbent Services, Relocation and Cost-Sharing for New Services. The FCC seeks comment on whether there are any segments of the band that are so intensively used that co-existence with new services in that segment of the band would be impossible. NOI, ¶ 25.

The NOI raises a series of questions about satellite operations in the band and how they might be affected by new mobile wireless operations. Among other things, the FCC asks whether incumbent FSS services can be relocated to a portion of the band or to a different band, whether there are sensitive Telemetry, Tracking, and Control (TT&C) operations for existing or planned satellites operating in the band, how the Commission can ensure that such TT&C operations are protected, whether transmitting and receiving FSS earth stations ought to be treated differently, how many earth stations currently authorized for downlink in the 12.7-12.75 GHz band are in operation in the United States, and how the Commission should address earth station receive sites in the United States, given that most such stations in the band are authorized only for uplink in the band. NOI, ¶ 28.

If incumbents need to be relocated, the Commission solicits comment on appropriate cost sharing procedures for new entrants, as well as whether incumbents should be required to submit information detailing their current use of the band.  NOI, ¶ 25. Among other things, the Commission asks:

  • “How should we apportion the expenses of a relocation among those new entrants that benefit from the relocation?” NOI, ¶ 29.
  • “What type of formula should be applied? Would that formula differ for FS, mobile, or FSS?” Id.
  • “Would there be a need to designate one or more clearinghouses to administer the cost-sharing plan and calculate the amount of each beneficiary’s reimbursement obligation in accordance with any formula that would be set forth in our rules?” Id.
  • “Are there opportunities to incentivize the relocation of some or all types of incumbents on an accelerated basis?” Id.
  • “Would some form of the accelerated relocation payment approach such as was used for the 3.7-4.2 GHz band (3.7 GHz band) or an incentive auction similar to the approach used for reorganizing the 38.6-40 GHz band (39 GHz band) be appropriate to accelerate clearing some or all incumbent services out of some or all of the 12.7 GHz band?” Id.

The FCC also requests comment on whether sunsetting certain incumbent services in the band would better serve the public interest than clearing or repacking approaches. NOI, ¶ 25.

Potential Licensing Approaches, Service, and Technical Rules. The Commission seeks comment on which licensing approaches would best facilitate the deployment of new mobile broadband or other expanded uses in the 12.7 GHz band, as well as maximize competition by a diverse range of operators. For example, the Commission asks whether it should assign new licenses on an exclusive-use basis, through the issuance of new geographic-area overlay licenses, or alternative licensing approaches such as non-exclusive, site-based, or a tiered approach such as that used in the 3.5 GHz band. NOI, ¶ 31.

The Commission also requests feedback on service and technical rules, asking whether there are particular rule provisions (such as particular channel sizes) that might promote effective coordination and use of the band, whether there are pairing opportunities between this band and other spectrum bands for fixed or mobile services, and how potential modifications to the service and technical rules could promote robust and efficient use of spectrum resources, minimize the potential for interference, and maximize flexibility for licensees. NOI, ¶ 31.

Impact on Adjacent Bands. The FCC invites comment on the potential impact to services in adjacent spectrum.  It requests that commenters provide technical details including assumptions and parameters, technical aspects of receivers, antennas, and operational characteristics to ensure adequate protection of adjacent band services. In addition, the Commission seeks comment on the appropriate protection level that new operations in the 12.7 GHz band should be required to protect incumbent services in adjacent bands, focusing specifically on the current and potential future protection levels applied to the 12.2-12.7 GHz (NOI, ¶ 34), 13.25-13.4 GHz (NOI, ¶¶ 35-37), and 13.4-13.75 GHz bands (NOI, ¶ 38). The NOI also asks whether provisions such as maximum out-of-band emission levels or particular blocking limits would be necessary. NOI, ¶ 39.

Cost-Benefit Analysis and Digital Equity and Inclusion. The NOI concludes by inviting commenters to consider the costs and benefits associated with the various approaches discussed in the NOI.  It further invites discussion of ways to minimize costs and optimize benefits for a “balanced approach” to permitting mobile broadband or other expanded use in the 12.7 GHz band. NOI, ¶ 41.

The Commission reminds commenters of its continuing efforts to advance digital equity and inclusion, seeking comment on how the above considerations may promote or inhibit the Commission’s advances in this regard. NOI, ¶ 43.

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For more information, please contact one of the authors listed on this alert.

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