FCC Still Fielding Questions About 3.5 GHz Wireless Broadband Spectrum

July 17, 2014 - Written By Jeremiah Nelson

The Federal Communication Commission is getting questions, comments, and some push back on its plans for opening the 3.5 GHz spectrum band. The plan is to establish the Citizens Broadband Radio Service, or CBRS. The techniques that the FCC wants to use are complicated, and some say they are more convoluted than is necessary.

The FCC is planning on using a three-tiered access model to provide 150 MHz of spectrum for the Citizens Broadband Radio Service. The spectrum comes from the white space spectrum that is vacant between channels, similar to the white space TV spectrum that was made available for unlicensed use in 2008. The CBRS would be made available for both license and unlicensed use. Licensed users of the spectrum would probably be telecommunication companies that would use it for mobile broadband and other operations. Unlicensed users could connect to the CBRS spectrum the way that users can connect to open Wi-Fi networks now, as long as they had the proper equipment.

The CBRS is supported by companies like Verizon, AT&T, and Google, but others are not so happy with what the FCC is proposing. Because the service would use a three-tier system, some say it’s more complicated than is necessary. In Europe, a two-tier connection system is in place using licensed share access (LSA) along with unlicensed users. What the FCC is proposing in their three-tier model is priority access licenses (PALs) that are like Europe’s LSAs, unlicensed users under a general authorized access (GAA) tier, and then a third tier for federal and non-federal incumbents. Basically, a government access tier that could have priority over the other two tiers. This confuses things and could cause issues when it comes to licensing and usage rights.

Nokia petitioned the FCC back in May to “keep it simple” and just use a two-tier, PAL and GAA system. This would keep hardware and licensing in line with what is currently available and in place. It would also allow the CBRS to fully comply with 3GPP Release 8 standards, which are globally accepted. The FCC may want to do things their own way, which means the U.S. would be operating on different standards than Europe and other areas of the globe. That leaves us in a similar situation to the one created by Verizon and Sprint when they chose the less popular CDMA cellular standard over the globally accepted GSM one.