FCC looks at shifting satellite spectrum to wireless broadband

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C-band satellite frequencies will be rolled up over time, and turned over to ground-based wireless broadband operators, if the Federal Communications Commission moves ahead with a plan it will consider at its July 2018 meeting.

The satellite industry got it start with C-band back in the 1970s. Those birds sparked a revolution in the television business, allowing the development of cable networks, like HBO and CNN. They also enabled a new wave of satellite TV entrepreneurs, who sold big, back yard dishes to people who lived outside the bounds of cable systems.

Technology marches on, though. Commercial Ku-band satellites, which operate in higher frequency bands, were launched in the 1980s and were, in most respects, more cost effective. Higher frequencies meant more bandwidth and smaller dishes. C-band satellites are still in use, but are are more limited in terms of applications.

The C-band segment that interests the FCC is the 500 MHz between 3.7 MHz and 4.2 MHz. That’s just above new “mid-band” wireless broadband frequencies that the FCC is bringing online. The plan is to start at the low end at that range – 3.7 MHz – and progressively move surviving C-band traffic to higher and higher slices of that spectrum. Existing C-band licenses would be grandfathered in and protected to an extent, although that’s not completely helpful. Most C-band dishes aren’t licensed – it’s not generally required if all you’re doing is receiving signals. As most C-band dishes do. New C-band satellites already face restrictions, which would be increased if the FCC moves ahead with its plan.

The first step would be to start collecting data on how many C-band satellites are still in use, and how long they’re expected to last. Simple putting a freeze on new launches would end the business after maybe fifteen years or less – that’s the typical lifespan of a communications satellite.