Connect with us


Wireless Internet Providers Excited About Multiple Spectrum Sharing Opportunities, Including FCC Priority Access



Photo of WISPA CEO Claude Aiken discussing spectrum at WISPAPALOOZA by Drew Clark

LAS VEGAS, Nevada, October 18, 2019 – The Wireless Internet Service Provider Association annual conference opened here this week with optimism, a record turnout of more than 2,200 attendees, and lots of discussion about wireless radio frequencies.

The theme of this WISPAPALOOZA conference, “Spectrum of Possibilities,” plays off the fact that radio frequency spectrum seems to underlie just about every decision that these wireless internet service providers make.

And with two or three or three significant bands of spectrum under active negotiation by and with the Federal Communications Commission, merely keeping track of all the spectrum-related activity of concern to WISPs is no small task. This article aims to present a summary of these major spectrum matters.

As scrappy entrepreneurs that bring wireless broadband to many parts of the country that are ignored by big broadband providers, WISPs have a strong independent streak – and a traditional hesitancy to engage in the sort of Washington lobbying that is par-for-the-course for wireless spectrum.

“It is a great time to be a WISP,” association CEO Claude Aiken said Tuesday at the conference kick-off. “This is our time to shine, to show America our integral role in delivering new possibilities to our local communities.”

Aiken, who stepped into his leadership role at WISPA just over a year ago, noted important progress in how WISPs are treated by the FCC. “Policymakers and the marketplace are awakening to the possibility that through WISPs, bridging the digital divide could be achieved more quickly and cost-effectively than with the traditional players.  That the WISP model of broadband deployment is undeniably potent and effective.”

WISPs role as providers of fixed broadband in rural America

Consider all the hype seen in the broadband word about the so-called “fifth generation,” or 5G, technology standard. It’s being promulgated by the “big four” (soon to be big three) wireless carriers: AT&T, Verizon, and a combined T-Mobile/Sprint.

These wireless giants provide “mobile” wireless service, meaning that you can get service with your cellular phone wherever you are. These much-discussed 5G standards generally pertain to newly emerging technologies for transmitting and receiving mobile wireless signals at significantly higher speeds and lower latencies. But the technologies currently available for these mobile services are nowhere near their marketplace hype.

Instead of offering mobile service, WISPs generally provide of “fixed” wireless, meaning that they transmit broadband signals from a tower to an internet device that stays in one location, such as a home broadband connection. Those services generally operate in different frequency bands than those of mobile broadband.

Nearly 2,000 WISPs serve six million Americans with broadband, often in hard-to-reach rural areas that traditional telecom players have chosen to ignore. These WISPs, including about 800 that are members of WISPA, generally employ fewer than 10 individuals, have been in business for about 15 years, and risk their own private capital to bring service to their customers.

Their vital role in bridging the rural digital divide is increasingly being recognized, including with a scheduled keynote appearance by Michelle Christian, the national director for rural affairs for the U.S. Small Business Administration.

WISPA members bullish about future spectrum prospects

Yet in spite of all the bull surrounding 5G, WISPA members are bullish about their future prospects.

Why? Because WISPs, which are frequently confronted with regulatory, capital, and local infrastructure challenges, are often adept at innovating connectivity solutions in the most unforgiving circumstances.

WISPs have traditionally made use of unlicensed spectrum, or spectrum that is available for anyone to use without charge. The most popular unlicensed bands are located at 900 MegaHertz (MHz), 2.4 GigaHertz (GHz), and 5 GHz on the spectrum dial. Because they use no-cost unlicensed spectrum, they are able to beam broadband to far-flung localities at prices that WISPA officials say are 15 percent of the cost to wire regions for fiber service.

But with spectrum being the scarce “fuel” for a WISP’s business, the unlicensed bands aren’t enough to keep up with growing demand. Hence the buzz and discussion at WISPALOOZA here centered on three specific spectrum proceedings in Washington.

The first of these is the Citizens’ Broadband Radio Service, which operates in the 3.5 GHz band, or specifically from 3550 MHz to 3700 MHz.

A second proceeding of key interest to WISPA members is the C-Band, or the segment of spectrum from 3.7 GHz to 4.2 GHz.

Most spectrum is classified as either licensed, meaning that it is effectively privately property, or unlicensed. But over the past decade or so, the FCC has trended toward a new model of spectrum sharing. Under this approach, advances in radiofrequency technology transmission permit a range of uses with the same spectrum.

Unlike the fully unlicensed bands in which most WISPs operate, both CBRS and the C-Band will be shared or “lightly licensed.” Additionally, these so-called “mid-band” services have capacity for higher broadband data transport without requiring the line-of-sight that is required in high-frequency transmissions.

That’s why the mid-band provides new opportunities for WISPs that have been heretofore lacking.

An unusual start to the CBRS, or Citizens Broadband Radio Service

What is now called CBRS is considered the 150 megahertz of spectrum being made available from 3550 MHz to 3700 MHz. The band brings together a weird range of different sorts of wireless uses: Defense Department radar systems, a so-called “Fixed Satellite Service” for space-to-earth radio stations, and now WISPs.

Beginning in 2005, the FCC revised its rules to open up the portion from 3650 MHz to 3700 MHz. Under the licensing scheme adopted at that time, the FCC issued an unlimited number of non-exclusive nationwide licenses for commercial use – provided that the WISP seeking to use the license registered their base station with a spectrum coordinator.

The registration was necessary to enable an FCC-designed spectrum coordinator to manage potential interference with the satellite-to-earth stations. The 8,000 WISPs currently using 3.65 GHz (which means the same thing as 3650 MHz) has provided the experimentation necessary for the FCC to take the next step in CBRS evolution in 2015.

Four years ago, the agency created rules for the shared use of 3550 MHz to 3700 MHz. There will be a three-part structure for the 150 megahertz worth of spectrum: (1) Incumbent users, which are largely Defense Department and satellite users; (2) a series of “Priority Access Licenses” that are going up for auction by the FCC on June 25, 2020; and the (3) General Authorized Access tier that will allow WISPs  to operate throughout the 3500-3700 MHz band, so long as they do not cause harmful interference to incumbent users or to PAL licensees.

Advances is spectrum sharing have given the agency confidence that, through the intermediate role of a Spectrum Access System, harmful interference between the different sorts of uses can be avoided.  On  September 16, 2019, the agency announced five SAS administrators – Amdocs, CommScope, Federated Wireless, Google, and Sony – that will automatically detect transmissions from those Defense Department radar system, or from the earth-to-space stations, and tell WISPs to quickly switch frequencies.

The system of spectrum sharing has led to the launch of commercial services dubbed OnGo.

For WISPs, the promise of CBRS is that it allows them two separate bites at the apple. They’ve already been able to make use – without pay — of the General Authorized Access from 3650 MHz to 3700 MHz; soon, they’ll be able to do so in a wider band, from 3500 MHz to 3700 MHz.

But if WISPs find that area to be too crowded, they can make a bid in Auction 105 next June for a Priority Access License. The big debate here has been about the size of the license areas. WISPs want small geographic license areas, whereas the big three wireless carriers want large, metropolitan area license regions.

The 2015 FCC rules would have created PALs in each Census tract. Although the 2017 changes considered shifting to Partial Economic Areas, which are 178 times larger than Census tracts, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai compromised on county-sized license areas. However, the FCC is considering make them bigger again.

Each PAL will be a 10 megahertz channel within the 3550 MHz to 3650 MHz region. No more than seven PALs will be issued an any one county, and a licensee could aggregate up to four PAL channel within that county. This last rule is designed to keep any bidder – such as one of the big three carrier carriers – from dominating a particular county.

With 3,323 county-based license areas at 7 PALs each, 22,631 lots of spectrum will be up for auction in CBRS. Experts say that could raise $15.6 billion for the U.S. government.

C-Band, further in the future, will benefit from spectrum-sharing successes

While CBRS is a clear and present opportunity for WISPs, C-Band is a more distant but potentially equally providential dream.

The whole notion of centralizing this new opportunity for WISPs in the mid-band is that it provides the opportunity for mass-produced equipment using the global LTE standard for fixed wireless providers. And the spectrum-sharing successes at 3650 MHz provide the template for doing spectrum sharing in more bands.

The next opportunity is likely to be immediately above CBRS in the C-Band, which sits at 3.7 GHz to 4.2 GHz. WISPA and others asked the FCC to devote this band to spectrum sharing in 2017, and over the summer, they filed a study funded by Google and Microsoft which showed that reducing exclusion zones from 150 kilometers to 10 kilometers would be sufficient to protect fixed-satellite service earth stations from harmful interference.

That, in turn, could allow more than 80 million Americans to have new options for high-speed broadband. Although satellite providers and video programmers oppose the Google-Microsoft-WISPA proposal, the providers at WISPAPALOOZA were optimistic that time is on their side. Further success with CBRS will provide a framework for extending the spectrum-sharing model into the C-Band.

Other spectrum areas under discussion include the former Educational Broadband Service

Although there are many other spectrum bands under discussion – including a crowded 6 GHz band, a licensed 11 GHz band, and the lightly licensed “millimeter wave” band at 70/80/90 GHz – the mid-band opportunities generated the most buzz and interest.

In fact, the way that the CBRS and C-Band interact with another significant chunk of spectrum in the mid-band — the 2.5 GHz Educational Broadband Spectrum — creates an additional possibility. Specifically, the EBS is located from 2496 MHz to 2690 MHz. Here, the FCC has come under considerable criticism for taking the “educational” out of EBS.

But FCC defenders say that the number of educational institutions taking advantage of EBS licensing are really quite limited. In a separate action of the summer, the FCC has committed to auctioning off EBS spectrum before year-end 2020.

These 194 megahertz of spectrum that make up the EBS band have their original as television licenses, and typically operate in a circular area around a 35-mile radius from a center point. About half of the licenses across the country are unassigned, and they are primarily in rural areas.

Ironically enough, the biggest holder of EBS spectrum is the wireless carrier Sprint that is being subsumed into T-Mobile. Through lease agreements with educational institutions, Sprint holds about 90 percent of the 2,190 active EBS licenses.

The main item to be addressed by the FCC prior to the finalization of this auction is the so-called “priority window” that is being granted to native American tribes to make use of EBS spectrum.

Most WISPs haven’t begun to focus on opportunities in the 2.5 GHz band because of the tight time-frame surrounding the CBRS auction that is coming up in June 2020. But, paired together – and coupled with the C-Band opportunity a few years down the line – these mid-band options provide new fuel for the “Spectrum of Possibilities” that await the WISP industry.

About the author:

Drew Clark, the Editor and Publisher of, is a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney at The CommLaw Group. He has closely tracked the trends in and mechanics of digital infrastructure for 20 years, and has helped fiber-based and fixed wireless providers navigate coverage, identify markets, broker infrastructure, and operate in the public right of way. If you are interested in tracking legislative, judicial or regulatory developments impacting the regulation and regulatory status of broadband services in Congress and the states, contact Drew Clark at

Breakfast Media LLC CEO Drew Clark has led the Broadband Breakfast community since 2008. An early proponent of better broadband, better lives, he initially founded the Broadband Census crowdsourcing campaign for broadband data. As Editor and Publisher, Clark presides over the leading media company advocating for higher-capacity internet everywhere through topical, timely and intelligent coverage. Clark also served as head of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois, a state broadband initiative.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply


FCC Votes Forward 42 GHz Spectrum Sharing Model Proposal to Broaden Use

Proposed rules will consider how the band might be made available through non-exclusive spectrum access models.



Photo of Nathan Simington, Brendan Carr, Jessica Rosenworcel, Geoffrey Starks

WASHINGTON, June 8, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously at its June open meeting to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking that explores how the 42 – 42.5 GHz spectrum band might be made available on a shared basis. 

The FCC will consider how the band might be made available through one of several non-exclusive spectrum access models that would have the potential to maximize its use, particularly by smaller providers. 

The 42 GHz band has 500 megahertz of greenfield airwaves with no federal or commercial incumbencies, which the FCC seeks to use with non-exclusive access models. This could entail using technology-based sensing to help operators mitigate interference by detecting and avoiding one another, non-exclusive licenses that leverage a database to facilitate co-existence, or site-based licensing. 

“In the United States, we have already auctioned nearly five gigahertz of this spectrum for traditional exclusive use. I believe now it’s time for something new,” said Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in her statements. 

The notice further seeks comment on whether the approaches in the 42 GHz band could be used in other spectrum bands, like the lower 37 GHz band.

Comments regarding the action are due July 8. 

“Our goal here is to come up with a new model to lower barriers, encourage competition and maximize the opportunities in millimeter wave spectrum,” said Rosenworcel, urging for more creativity in sharing models. 

The FCC’s spectrum auction authority expired in March for the first time in its history.  

The FCC also voted to issue proposed rules that would advance the transition to next generation 911, which supports new 911 capabilities including text, video and data sharing.

The ruling would require that originating wireline, interconnected voice over internet protocol, and internet-based telecommunications relay service providers format 911 calls to be compatible with NG911 in IP-based format.  

For providers to implement these regulations, the ruling proposed a timeline of six months from the date it is adopted. Rosenworcel said this would “expedite and inform public safety efforts and dramatically improve emergency response.” 

The commission also voted forward proposed rules that would enhance the accessibility of interoperable video conferencing services by requiring video conferencing platforms to comply with the accessibility requirements under the Communications Act. That includes improving speech-to-text captioning, text-to-speech capabilities, sign language interpreters, and other accessibility tools.  

Continue Reading


T-Mobile Sues WCO Spectrum for Allegedly Artificially Inflating Spectrum Leasing Prices for Profit

A whistleblower exposed WCO Spectrum scheme estimated to cost T-Mobile $10 million, T-Mobile claims.



Photo of Gary Winnick of WCO Spectrum

WASHINGTON, June 7, 2023 – T-Mobile is alleging in new court documents filed in a California court on June 2 that WCO Spectrum has engaged in a “nationwide criminal scheme to defraud T-Mobile and its subsidiaries” by artificially inflating prices it pays to lease spectrum from educational institutions. 

T-Mobile leases the right to use certain spectrum bands from educational institutions that hold Federal Communications Commission licenses for the bands. The wireless carrier reserves the right of first refusal in most of its contracts which allows the company to match a third party offer to purchase a spectrum license and acquire the license itself.  

The filing in federal court alleges that Gary Winnick, founder of WCO Spectrum, formed an illegal enterprise to make fraudulent offers to educational institutions to purchase spectrum licenses intended to raise T-Mobile costs. T-Mobile claims that WCO — which is described as a private investor in educational broadband service spectrum licenses — entered into “secret side agreements” with these educational institutions to pocket a portion of the price hike in the event that T-Mobile matched the third-party offer.  

The side contract guaranteed that the licensee will pay WCO a portion, usually 10 percent, of the purchase price. According to T-Mobile, the WCO tried to hide its kickback arrangement by requiring the licensee to sign a non-disclosure agreement. The carrier said the scheme has cost it $10 million. 

T-Mobile alleges WCO has, in total, offered the educational institutions more than $1.6 billion for 167 spectrum licenses. The carrier alleges that because WCO cannot follow through on that big of a purchase, it means it never meant those offers in good faith. 

To support the scheme, WCO allegedly entered into a fake line of credit agreement with SCH LLC, T-Mobile said. SCH lends the appearance of legitimacy to WCO’s offers by purporting to lend WCO the funds needed to purchase the spectrum licenses, claimed T-Mobile. 

In actuality, said T-Mobile, SCH’s line of credit is a farce as it does not have any apparent history, public presence, or lines of business. According to T-Mobile, SHC exists to create the illusion that WCO’s offers are backed by legitimate financing. T-Mobile claimed that SCH receives 8 percent of WCO’s kickback. 

WCO did not respond to requests for comment.  

Faced with the allegedly fraudulent offers, T-Mobile had to choose between spending vast sums of money to purchase spectrum licenses or risk the possibility that WCO would purchase the license and become T-Mobile’s spectrum landlord, “almost certainly guaranteeing that T-Mobile would have to pay a king’s ransom later,” the complaint said.  

WCO had allegedly abandoned multiple deals rather than produce documents to T-Mobile that would have unveiled the alleged fraud, the carrier added.  

A former insider of WCO and whistleblower alerted T-Mobile to the scheme, read the court filing. The whistleblower allegedly provided documents consistent with his claims and T-Mobile was able to obtain further documents which corroborate the whistleblower’s narrative, the carrier said. 

In one instance WCO actually signed a contract to purchase a license subject to a T-Mobile lease, which T-Mobile claims is “simply an example of WCO taking steps to cover up its scheme.” The deal happened soon after the whistleblower surfaced and WCO learned T-Mobile was aware of the scheme, it said. 

T-Mobile says the alleged fraud violates the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and California Unfair Competition Law. 

“At their core, defendants are fraudsters whose racketeering and unfair and deceptive conduct is precisely the type of behavior that the RICO and UCL statues were designed to redress,” read the filing. 

Continue Reading


FCC Votes to Preserve Parts of 12 GHz Spectrum Band for Satellite Use

In light of technical evidence, the FCC has voted to preserve 12.2-12.7 GHz band for satellite purposes.



Photo of FCC Commissioners Nathan Simington, Brendan Carr, Jessica Rosenworcel, Geoffrey Starks (left to right)

WASHINGTON, May 18, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission voted in an open meeting Thursday to preserve parts of the 12 GHz spectrum band for advanced satellite service.

The FCC adopted rules to preserve spectrum in the 12.2-12.7 GHz band for satellite services by refusing to authorize two-way, high-powered terrestrial mobile use on the same band due to the significant risk of harmful interference to existing satellite services.  

“In 12.2 we are correcting course in response to technical evidence,” said FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks in his comments. “Based on the studies filed, our engineers have concluded to date that high-powered mobile broadband when deployed throughout the country will interfere with established and emerging satellite services that serve millions of customers and is growing.” 

“I would have welcomed a path forward that allowed both services to thrive, but for now, it is time for us to adapt,” he concluded. 

The FCC also adopted a proposal to repurpose some or part of the 12.7-13.25 GHz band to support flexible terrestrial wireless use and is seeking comment regarding the action. 

Starlink, SpaceX’s satellite broadband service provider said in a letter to the FCC earlier this month that it appreciated that the proposal to reject the use of high-powered mobile operations in the 12.2-12.7 GHz band would be considered.  

The company has raised alarm for years about potential interference issues if the commission opens the band to mobile use.  

RS Access said in a letter to the FCC that the band is compatible with both mobile and satellite operations. The letter suggested that the FCC “tentatively conclude” that high-power fixed operations are compatible with other “co-primary operations.” 

The company’s CEO, Noah Campbell, issued a statement following the FCC’s Thursday decision stating that he “welcomes the FCC’s unanimous and bipartisan vote on how to enable valuable consumer services in the 12 GHz band.”

Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel concluded her remarks with a plea for Congress to reauthorize spectrum auction authority to the FCC, which expired in March for the first time in its history. 

“Restoring this authority will provide the United States with the strongest foundation to compete in a global economy, counter our adversaries’ technology ambitions, and safeguard our national security,” she said. 

Continued crackdown on illegal robocalls and more flexible rules for 60 GHz spectrum

The FCC also approved and adopted new rules to further expand its robocall blocking requirements for voice carriers. The new rules will extend several call blocking requirements to include voice service providers that are not currently covered by FCC rules. 

In November, the FCC ruled that straight-to-voicemail robocalls will be subject to the 1991 Telephone Consumer Protection Act’s consumer protections. The FCC has focused its energy over the last few years on eliminating robocall activity in the United States. 

“Today we build on these efforts by clarifying some of our rules designed to put a halt to illegal robocalls. We make clear that all carriers have a duty to respond to traceback requests in 24 hours so we can figure out who is behind any new rash of illegal robocalls,” said Rosenworcel in a statement.  

According to a Federal Trade Commission report, U.S. consumers reported a total of $798 million lost to fraud via phone call in 2022.  

The FCC also adopted new, more flexible rules for the 60 GHz spectrum band to support innovative radar technology, which include important applications that alert drivers to children left in hot cars, detect hand gestures to improve mobility, and assist drones in construction and emergency rescue, among other applications. 

“Welcome to the radar revolution. It is no longer just for tracking planes and measuring weather patterns. That’s because we are on the cusp of deploying radar technology for a much wider range of uses,” said Rosenworcel. “In this decision, we are updating our approach to the 60 GHz band. We are modernizing it so that it can be used to its full potential.” 

Continue Reading

Signup for Broadband Breakfast News

Broadband Breakfast Research Partner