The Federal Communications Commission has approved Satellite TV provider Dish Networks' request to use its AWS-4 wireless spectrum to offer 4G LTE wireless services.
It was not a given that the spectrum, originally designated for satellite use, would receive FCC approval. LightSquared spent years trying to form—and receive approval for—a Long Term Evolution (LTE) network based on satellite spectrum, but ultimately failed to do so after the network was found to be disruptive to GPS communications. In May, LightSquared filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, with officials saying they needed breathing room from creditors to resolve ongoing regulatory issues.
Considering the Dish proposal, the FCC expressed concern regarding a portion of the spectrum referred to as the H block. It suggested that Dish disable 25 percent of its uplink spectrum and impair another 25 percent.
Sprint currently owns, but doesn't use, some H Block spectrum, and R. Stanton Dodge, Dish's general counsel, responded in a statement: "Sprint's position on the H Block would render useless 25 percent of Dish's uplink spectrum—so that Sprint is positioned to merely gain the exact same amount of spectrum. This is a zero-sum approach."
Earlier this month, however, Dish officials relented, saying they would set aside a portion of spectrum to be used as a "guard band" to protect the H block.
"The FCC has removed outdated regulations and granted terrestrial flexibility for most of the AWS-4 band," Jeff Blum, Dish senior vice president and deputy general counsel, said in a Dec. 11 statement celebrating the decision.
Blum added that the commission's ruling was an "important step" toward fulfilling the mission of the National Broadband Plan. "Following a more thorough review of the order and its technical details," he added, "Dish will consider its strategic options and the optimal approach to put this spectrum to use for the benefit of consumers."
Commissioner Tammy Sun, in a statement, said the decision advanced President Obama's goal of freeing up more 500MHz spectrum and will help to meet "skyrocketing consumer demand," promote investment, innovation and competition and unlock "billions of dollars of value."
The Commission unanimously approved freeing up 40MHz of underutilized satellite spectrum for land-based mobile broadband, including 4G LTE. We accomplished this by removing regulatory barriers that limited this spectrum to satellite use. Carefully balanced technical requirements will unlock tremendous value in both the AWS-4 band and the 10MHz H Block, which Congress directed us to auction. The Commission also unanimously approved a proposal setting the stage for an auction of the H Block in 2013. Proceeds from this auction will help fund a nationwide Public Safety Network for our first responders and reduce the deficit.
In addition to being a likely bidder for Dish's H block spectrum, Sprint had earlier approached Dish about partnering up to share spectrum, according to Bloomberg.
Sprint responded favorably to the FCC's decision, telling Bloomberg in a Dec. 11 statement: "By allocating this spectrum for commercial broadband use, the Commission is helping to bring more wireless broadband directly to consumers. This will promote economic growth, investment, innovation and increase the economic competitiveness of the U.S."