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Before October 27 Auction, a Q&A With Gregory Rose, Author of 'The WiMAX Band'

WASHINGTON, October 23, 2009 – Next Tuesday, October 27, 2009, the Federal Communications Commission is preparing to hold Auction 86, for the use of radio-frequencies being deployed through WiMAX technologies. The presence of two major carriers in the band – Clearwire and Sprint – makes this auction crucial for the success of WiMAX in the United States. Last week, began offering for sale a major report on “The ‘WiMAX Band’: Characteristics, Technology, Major Spectrum Holders in the BRS-EBS Service and Prospects for Auction 86.” BRS-EBS stands for Broadband Radio Service-Educational Broadband Service. Click here for further information about the report – including an extensive series of detailed and searchable auction tables in spreadsheets.



Editor’s Note: Next Tuesday, October 27, 2009, the Federal Communications Commission is preparing to hold Auction 86, for the use of radio-frequencies being deployed through WiMAX technologies. The presence of two major carriers in the band – Clearwire and Sprint – makes this auction crucial for the success of WiMAX in the United States.

Last week, began offering for sale a major report on “The ‘WiMAX Band’: Characteristics, Technology, Major Spectrum Holders in the BRS-EBS Service and Prospects for Auction 86.” BRS-EBS stands for Broadband Radio Service-Educational Broadband Service. Click here for further information about the report – including an extensive series of detailed and searchable auction tables in spreadsheets. Reporter-Researcher Christina Kirchner interviewed Gregory Rose, the author of the report, to provide a layman’s guide to what’s happening in the auction – and why it matters for the future of broadband. Below are edited excerpts from the interview:

Q: What prompted you to research this information and compile this comprehensive report in anticipation of this auction?

A: I have been working on spectrum issues for many years and I have contacts with the principal players. Also this is available in terms of [press] releases from these companies. They keep websites, they put information about them, all it takes some very digital searching and running into the right information and the right people.

Q: How long you been working on spectrum issues in relation to WiMAX and Clearwire?

A: WiMAX is an up and coming technology which has, in addition to Clearwire, been a particular national player in the provision of 4G [fourth-generation] wireless services. The fact that Comcast, Time Warner and several other companies – together with Sprint and Clearwire – invest heavily in the technology suggest something well worth keeping an eye on.

Q: WiMax is intended principally for wireless networks in metropolitan areas, correct? Will the presence of Clearwire engaging in more widespread spectrum leasing create more competition between existing spectrum license-holders?

A: Well, I think that the intended purpose is to challenge the incumbents in urban areas. Well, I mean the WiMAX technology can be used in rural areas. It has a 50-75 mile transmission zone, so that it is perfectly feasible technology for some rural areas. WiMAX competitors like DigitalBridge and Xanadoo, which have chosen smaller towns and rural areas because they know areas where Clearwire is not deployed, [are focusing] particularly in rural areas.

Q: What do you mean by not deployed? Are they purposely not doing that?

A: I think it is probably the influence of Comcast and Time Warner [which have an ownership stake in Clearwire] on their policy. Roughly 10 percent of America is in rural area, where there is not enough population or where the cost of deployment is relatively high, such that the rate of return that investors receive who deploy there is not terribly high. Given the fact that all major wireless companies are publicly-owned, they are held hostage to the expectations of financial markets. Deploying in these areas would significantly reduce their mean rate of return and they would be punished by investors in the stock market. So they have simply redlined 10 percent of America. And Clearwire seems to be following in that same policy probably for much of the same reasons. Smaller, privately owned companies are, however, beginning to deploy in some of those areas.

Q: In page seven of the report, it says “Spectrum coverage is in such redundant depth in these locales that there has been speculation that Clearwire believes that complete fixed and mobile WiMAX coverage will be more spectrum-intensive than originally projected.” In layman’s term, what is spectrum intensive?

A: Ah, yes, WiMAX is suppose to be non-line-of–sight.Rather, it goes through things rather than have a direct line of sight connection to where it is transmitting. In Portland, the first major WiMAX roll -out deployment, that there have been more line-of-sight problems than the engineers thought there would be. There are WiMAX “dead zones” so they had to put up more towers to retransmit signals than they would have expected to if WiMAX didn’t have at least, in practical terms, some line of sight limitations. And that involves using more spectrum, transmitting at higher power levels, that sort of thing.

Q: So being spectrum intensive is, effectively, a bad thing?

A:Yes, although Clearwire has enough spectrum in redundancy in places where it is planning to deploy, it is confirmatory that there is some problem. [That’s why] they have acquired so much spectrum redundancy in given areas.

Q: How do hills and other physical obstacles have an effect on these transmissions?

Apparently they can. And some weather conditions, too. It is very wet out here [in Portland] much of the year, and I think with the intersection of hills and precipitation surprised Clearwire a bit in how much a difficulty they were going to have covering the entire Portland metropolitan area.

Q: Hence, in hindsight, the cost of deploying WIMAX abilities in rural areas more than they thought it would be. So when a company is coming to auction, how do they properly value what they should bid on particular frequencies?

A: Well, very little of WiMAX spectrum was actually auctioned. The rest or the majority of the spectrum is picked up on the secondary market, which is where they will transfer licenses or long-term leases of their licenses. And those transactions have to be approved of the FCC. Given the fact that there has been encouragement from the FCC to have BRS-EBS licenses-holders agree to use other spectrum, they will have an incentive to go onto the secondary market to either transfer or lease the spectrum they have, while they are migrating to other spectrums of the FCC.

Q: What is going to happen at the buildout deadline set for May 2010, and what kind of action can we expect for this auction on October 27?

A: They have set relatively low build-out expectations and the FCC has a history of giving waivers to those who don’t meet build out requirements. It has been a matter of continuing public interest to the community who vigorously see it as a failure of enforcement of the build-out requirements, which allows incumbents to warehouse their spectrum.

I expect the FCC to enforce the rules, but also at the same time, can see them do one- or two-year long waivers in cases where the spectrum holder has not been able to meet the requirement if they show evidence of serious intention [to deploy].

We have a relatively small number of bidders and I am expecting Clearwire and Digital Bridge to clearly dominate the scene, particularly Clearwire, making a national footprint by holding over half of the BRS-EBS spectrum. There are going to be three active bidders over the Gulf of Mexico region, mainly with communications with oil rigs. Then there will be smaller companies competing for spectrum in their existing footprint, competing for a handful of licenses.

Q: Any other issues?

A: There were some issues from the commenters of the bidding. The FCC has resolved them to the satisfaction of the people who are more likely to bid in the first place. Some of these issues were raised because of the implications that were raised at the other auctions, because once the FCC has decided on the rules of the auction, they will carry those rules over from one auction to another auction to another auction. So there were some commenters concerned about the long term effects on auctions of the certain kinds.

For more information on the purchasing the report, including the FREE Executive Summary, click here.

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Industry Dissent on Whether Spectrum Sharing is Sustainable

Experts disagree on the capabilities of spectrum sharing, particularly the CBRM model.



Photo of Colleen King of Charter Communications, John Hunter of T-Mobile, and Matthew Hussey of Ericsson (left to right)

WASHINGTON, March 22, 2023 – Industry leaders disagreed on the capabilities of spectrum sharing and its future in the United States at a Federal Communications Bar Association event Wednesday. 

Dynamic spectrum sharing – a technology that allows for 4G, LTE, and 5G wireless to be used in the same frequency bands – is essential to a successful national spectrum strategy, said Jennifer McCarthy of Federated Wireless.  

Establishing a combination of access points for one frequency band can open its availability for all prospective users, she continued, touting the success of the Citizens Broadband Radio Service established by the Federal Communications Commission in 2012. 

CBRS is the spectrum in the 3.5 GHz to 3.7 GHz band which is shared through a three-tiered framework. Access to the spectrum is managed by a dynamic spectrum access system where incumbent users have protected access, priority access users enter through competitive auction, and general authorized access is given to a broad pool of users when not in use by others.  

Representative of T-Mobile, John Hunter, disagreed, claiming that dynamic spectrum sharing means there is less power available for technologies, particularly on higher frequencies that don’t propagate very far despite power disparities. As such, deploying the CBRS framework at scale across the country is not cost-feasible, he said. 

We should not conclude to share just for the sake of sharing, he said, particularly because it will decrease utility of the band so much that it will decline quality of networks down the line. “In many cases, sharing just outright won’t work,” said Hunter.  

Colleen King, vice president of regulatory affairs at Charter Communications, pushed against the argument that dynamic sharing’s lower power will stop providers from providing great service, claiming that it instead allows for more carriers to provide great service. In fact, the CBRS auction had 228 winning bids, 10 times the amount of other spectrum auctions, she said. 

The FCC’s Communications Marketplace Report showed that in one market where Verizon is using the CBRS framework, the company is providing “much faster speeds” than its other markets, King cited. Charter will use the CBRS system for its spectrum uses, she said. 

Panelists nevertheless agreed on the importance of maintaining US leadership in the spectrum space by developing a national spectrum strategy to address sharing issues. 

The panel followed considerable debate over spectrum allocation, sharing, and expansion. Earlier this week, industry leaders suggested that the allocation process be updated in preparation for future disputes. Additionally, debate continues over whether 5G operations can be shared on the 12 GHz spectrum with satellite service providers.  

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Experts Call for Spectrum Allocation Reform, Pointing to C-Band Clash Between Airlines and 5G

Panelists emphasized the need to allow more time for research and collaboration throughout the auction process.



Screenshot of panelists at the ITIF event

WASHINGTON, March 20, 2023 — Although the wireless and aviation industries’ fight over mid-band spectrum has been largely resolved, regulators and experts from both industries agree that the allocation process should be updated in preparation for future disputes.

The challenge for regulators is to balance the “importance of more spectrum for the commercial industry to allow a critically important technology, 5G, to expand… against the equally important issue of, we can’t have airplanes falling out of the sky because their altimeters are being interfered with,” said Lawrence Strickling, former administrator at the NTIA, at an Information Technology & Innovation Foundation event on Monday.

The disagreement between the two industries peaked in January 2022, when the Federal Aviation Administration warned that the safety concerns surrounding major wireless carriers’ planned 5G rollout would lead to widespread flight delays and cancellations — causing an “economic calamity,” according to the leading airline industry association.

The airline industry’s concern was that 5G might interfere with radio altimeters, which provide critical elevation data for flight safety and navigation equipment, explained Jennifer Holder, director of aviation safety and regulatory affairs for Boeing, at the ITIF event.

“In the aviation industry, we don’t deal in ‘mights,’” Holder said. “You have to prove it’s safe.”

Wireless companies agreed to temporarily postpone deployment and work with aviation stakeholders to find a compromise. “We believe we have identified a path that will continue to enable aviation and 5G C-band wireless to safely co-exist,” Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen said in June.

Although that particular crisis was averted, many stakeholders agreed that the situation proved the need for an updated spectrum allocation process.

“Spectrum allocation works really, really well for the most part,” Strickling said. “But when you get into these really, really important issues that have severe consequences for different parties, it requires a little more coordination… at an interagency level to avoid the kind of controversy and disappointments that the altimeter controversy created.”

In addition to cooperation between multiple federal agencies, Strickling emphasized the importance of White House involvement with this type of challenge.

Mid-band spectrum remains a key part of innovation in the wireless industry, explained Tom Power, senior vice president and general counsel for wireless trade association CTIA. The C-band is sometimes nicknamed the “Goldilocks band” because it balances the advantages of the lower and higher bands to provide both range and speed, he said.

“It is really important for the nation in terms of the economy and productivity and jobs that we find opportunities, particularly in mid-band spectrum,” he added.

Panelists call for advance planning from both industry and government

Given the thoroughness of aviation standards processes, Holder emphasized the importance of the FAA anticipating emerging technologies rather than responding after problems arise.

However, she also called for updates to the Federal Communications Commission’s rulemaking and allocation procedures to allow more time for research and communication.

“Over the years, it does feel like we’ve had to play defense on spectrum auctions… It is incredibly challenging to evaluate whether or not you have a safety of flight issue in a 30 to 90 day time period,” Holder said.

Strickling agreed, saying that industry stakeholders should be given “as much advance notice as possible” about the potential allocations or reallocations of various spectrum bands.

Previous studies on interference have arrived at different results, Strickling added. Slowing down the auction process could allow more time for competing interests to come together in the design and execution of research.

But before changes to the allocation process are made, the FCC’s spectrum auction authority — which Congress failed to extend earlier in March — must be renewed, panelists agreed.

“This C-band issue has obviously been challenging, but it really is a small bump in the road compared to what we’re facing if we don’t restore spectrum auction authority,” Power said.

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Starry Group Files for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy

Starry said the bankruptcy will put it in a better position to continue offering service.



Photo of Starry CEO Chet Kanojia

WASHINGTON, February 21, 2023 – Fixed wireless internet service provider Starry Group Holdings Inc. has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, according to a Monday filing in the bankruptcy court of Delaware.

The petition shows the company has roughly $310 million in total debt, but assets that amount to just $270 million. It also listed having between 5,000 and 10,000 lenders.

The group will now enter into a restructuring to pay back the debt.

“Over the last several months, we’ve taken steps to conserve capital and reduce costs in order to put Starry in the best position to explore various financing paths for the company,” Chet Kanojia, Starry’s CEO, said in a press release Tuesday. “Our next step in this journey is to continue to strengthen our balance sheet through a Chapter 11 restructuring process.

“With the support of our lenders, we feel confident in our ability to successfully exit this process as a stronger company, well-positioned to continue delivering an affordable, high-quality broadband experience to our customers,” Kanojia added.

“The Restructuring Support Agreement provides us with the funding needed to continue operating as normal, through this restructuring process and as we guide the company to profitability,” he continued. “We have a strong and experienced team in place and look forward to moving through this process quickly so that we can continue expanding essential broadband access and #HappyInterneting to more communities across the country.”

Last year the company said it would be defaulting on all its winning bids from $9.2 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund of the Federal Communications Commission, of which $268 million went to the fixed wireless company for connectivity in at least nine states.

Kanojia said last year that the company’s business model puts it in a position to compete against larger players.

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