The FCC voted today on rules for the AWS-3 spectrum auction later this fall. The Report and Order sets flexible-use regulatory, licensing, and technical rules for 65 megahertz of spectrum in the AWS-3 band, which includes the 1695-1710 MHz, 1755-1780 MHz, and 2155-2180 MHz bands.
The FCC adopted rules to allocate and license the 1695-1710 MHz band for uplink/mobile operations on an unpaired shared basis with incumbent Federal meteorological-satellite (MetSat) data users.
The other 40 MHz block is more traditional. They will assign AWS-3 licenses by competitive bidding, offering 5 megahertz and 10 megahertz blocks that can be aggregated using Economic Areas (EAs).
The Order will make 40 megahertz (of the total 65 megahertz) of the AWS-3 spectrum available for commercial use. The 15 MHz chunk will be available on a shared basis with federal incumbents.
The FCC said its AWS-3 band plan “makes spectrum available in a mix of spectrum block and geographic license area sizes to meet the needs of large and small wireless providers.”
Verizon Wireless and AT&T will likely be major bidders of AWS-3 spectrum, but the two dominate carriers did not get their wish to have two chunks of 10Mhz X 2. Instead, the auction will include three 5×5 megahertz options, and just a single 10×10 megahertz license covering the country, notes RCR Wireless.
While the FCC release did not specify the size of geographic size of those licenses, comments indicated that the 5×5 megahertz licenses would include two sized to economic area dimensions and one sized to commercial market area dimensions. There are no spectrum caps, good news for the duopoly, especially AT&T, which is short on AWS, after giving much of it to T-Mobile after their failed merger attempt.
According to Commissioner Mignon Clyburn (Democrat),
“In the 2006 AWS-1 auction, 104 bidders won 1,087 licenses. Now, four carriers hold 1,000 of those licenses.
After carefully considering all the arguments on the band plan, I was more persuaded by the view that smaller block sizes and license areas could enhance competition, and yes, I would have preferred a different band plan.”
According to Commissioner Ajit Pai (Republican),
“We’re using the right type of auction to sell off the right spectrum. On the former point, we are maintaining open eligibility and uncapped participation, consistent with the Commission’s firmly-rooted standard that sets a high bar to any bidding restrictions.”
“Unfortunately, the FCC did not go far enough. The FCC’s decision today to license only one paired 5×5 MHz block in smaller Cellular Market Areas (CMAs) is certainly disappointing for most competitive carriers.”
“The use of the larger Economic Areas (EAs) will likely curtail participation among smaller carriers, who have neither the resources nor the scale to bid on license areas of that size.”
Congress has mandated the AWS-3 spectrum be auctioned by February 2015.
The FCC also chose to require that AWS-3 spectrum be interoperable with AWS-1 spectrum, which many carriers already use for LTE services. AWS-1 runs from 1710-1755 MHz and 2110-2155 MHz, notes Fierce Wireless.
The FCC also left it up to carriers to voluntarily have AWS-3 be interoperable with AWS-4 (MSS) spectrum, which Dish Network controls. Dish argued to the FCC earlier this month for an interoperability requirement for AWS-4. That will likely mean the big carriers will shut out Dish.
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