Tag Archives: cbrs

Small WISPs handed a tougher business case by FCC spectrum decision

by Steve Blum • , , , , ,

The Federal Communications Commission sided with big, national mobile carriers over small, local wireless Internet service providers (WISPs) yesterday. Whether that’s a good thing or not depends on where you think the market for wireless broadband service is heading.

The issue was use of the 3.5 GHz band (3550 MHz to 3700 MHz), which is frequently used for wireless broadband service – fixed and mobile – internationally, and is particularly sought after for 5G deployments.

In the U.S., it was allocated to the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) in 2015. A complicated frequency sharing process was adopted, with existing users protected, and new users divided into “priority access license” and “general authorised access” categories. Existing users (there aren’t many) are protected from new ones; priority license holders take precedence over general access users, who don’t need to apply for a license but do have to coordinate their operations with everyone else.

Yesterday’s decision changed the way priority access licenses are assigned. The 2015 decision said that the licenses would be auctioned off census tract by census tract. The new rules say that assignments will be sold county by county instead.

That makes a big difference in California, where counties tend to be very large. If a local WISP wants a license, it’ll have to pay for county-wide coverage, even if only serves a limited area. Think of the largest Californian county, San Bernardino (it’s also the largest in the U.S.). It includes heavily urbanised areas north of I–10 near Los Angeles, many mid-sized desert communities stretching from Victorville in the west to Needles on the Arizona border, and vast stretches of sparsely populated desert between Barstow and the Nevada line. It would be a practical impossibility for a small company to come up with a business model that serves all of that.

Berdoo is an extreme case, but the same kind of county-level geographic and economic diversity can be found throughout California.

On the other hand, that’s not a hard problem for a mobile carriers with a national footprint. Because they already offer differentiated services across various types of communities and terrain, they urged the FCC to change the CBRS rules to suit their business model. The FCC complied yesterday.

There are concessions for the small guys: sub-leases and local bidding credits were allowed, for example. But the decision gives the four big mobile carriers – AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint – a big advantage. If they upgrade service for rural communities, and not just focus on affluent urban areas, prices should be lower and service levels higher than what local WISPs typically offer.

That’s a big if.

FCC wants to give “citizens broadband” spectrum to big mobile

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Some citizens are more equal than others.

The Federal Communications Commission says it wants to assign frequencies in the so-called Citizens Broadband Radio Service using a more traditional, industry-centric approach than previously planned. It’s a significant chunk of spectrum, 150 MHz located between 3.550 GHz and 3.700 GHz in what’s referred to as the “mid-band”.

It’s not pristine territory. Government and other legacy licensees are still operating in that band, and they would be protected. New operators, running under whatever new rules that the FCC eventually adopts, will have stay out of the way of those existing users and coordinate use among themselves.


There’s little doubt that the FCC will protect legacy users, but it’s considering allocating channels in the traditional way, with long term, renewable licenses that would be auctioned off in one way or another. That’s a model that big mobile carriers love – they have enough engineering expertise and capital to crowd out smaller competitors – but it’s a departure from the relative free for all that was originally envisioned.

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel doesn’t like that approach. She’s a democratic appointee with a track record of critical thinking (for the record, I would put republican chairman Ajit Pai in that category too). In her dissent, she said it would be a step backward…

This rulemaking takes what was most innovative about our existing 3.5 GHz model and casts it aside in favor of existing business models. This is short sighted. The success of our future auctions depends on growing a new class of spectrum interests—who can innovate and join the ranks of those who bid on airwaves and support the Internet of Things. This is important. Because as our national providers grow bigger and fewer in number, the power of using auctions as a tool for distribution is compromised. Simply put, we need more entities interested in opportunities in our airwaves.

At this point, the FCC is just floating a trial balloon – a notice of proposed rulemaking in its jargon. The first round of comments will be due a month after it’s officially published, which likely means sometime in December.