The Federal Communications Commission has kicked off the next step to its search for new radio spectrum for broadband users today by announcing that it would release a portion of the 2 GHz S-band now used for mobile satellite communications.
The new frequencies would be available for use in terrestrial broadband applications in addition to their current use in low earth orbit satellite communications. The existing satellite use would continue.
The June 18 action is part of the FCC's implementation of its National Broadband Plan, announced earlier this year. Use of this band was part of the agreements that facilitated Harbinger Capital's acquisition of all of SkyTerra Communications and its broadband frequencies. The acquisition enables Harbinger Capital to provide wholesale 4G services to mobile communications companies.
The FCC approval means that Harbinger can use its resulting terrestrial and satellite services to provide a nationwide converged terrestrial and satellite network. Other companies using this portion of the spectrum are satellite communications providers Inmarsat and TerreStar, both of which are partially owned by Harbinger.
In April, the FCC released a 25 MHz chunk of bandwidth to mobile communications. At the time, the Commission stated that the goal was to remove barriers to flexible use of existing spectrum. The new announcement today makes more bandwidth available in a frequency range that's adjacent to existing wireless data services, which in turn eases the problem of designing equipment to take advantage of it.
According to a statement from the Spectrum Task Force at the FCC, today's announcement should make an additional 90 MHz of spectrum available for broadband wireless.
At some point later this year, the FCC will determine exactly how it wants to go about the next stage of its National Broadband implementation. The most likely events are that the FCC will issue a Notice of Inquiry (NOI), in which the FCC will solicit comments from the public and the industry on how to proceed.
This would be followed by a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) setting forth what the FCC plans to do and how it plans to do it. Both the NOI and the NPRM will involve public hearings. At this point, no date has been set for either event.
Ultimately, the FCC's National Broadband Plan proposes to deliver 500 MHz of spectrum for wireless broadband services by 2020. These radio frequencies will come from a variety of sources ranging from shared access such as in the June 18 announcement, to narrow slivers of previously unused guard frequencies, such as those in the TV whitespace plans.