There’s an interesting battle brewing at the FCC over lucrative mid-band spectrum. A battle that has multiple billionaires directly involved, highlighting the value of spectrum in the 5G age.
The battle is over MVDDS spectrum, which is in the 12 GHz band. This spectrum is currently used by DBS operators, including DISH and Directv, for the delivery of one-way video service.
But there has been a push to open up this spectrum for two-way terrestrial use, to include allowing it for mobile and fixed 5G use cases. That would require an FCC rule making, as the spectrum’s use is currently restricted.
There has already been an auction for terrestrial use of MVDDS spectrum, but it came with the restriction of one way use, meaning it is currently not suitable for 5G use.
Some trials here in the U.S. using MVDDS for fixed wireless have taken place, citing it as a possible ‘wireless fiber’ application. The spectrum is also used in other countries for broadband and video delivery.
Former Cable MSO Cablevision also took the MVDDS leap, by backing OMGfast, which leveraged MVDDS spectrum for a wireless ISP play in south Florida several years ago.
Attractive Mid-Band Spectrum
MVDDS is one of the most attractive bands of spectrum, given there’s a nationwide unencumbered swath of a whopping 500 MHz. To put that in perspective, between the licensed and unlicensed versions, about 150 MHz is available for CBRS, some of which is encumbered.
Those advocating to expand the use of 12 GHz spectrum include billionaires Charlie Ergen of Dish fame, and Michael Dell, founder of the Dell computer empire. Ergen and Dish control MVDDS spectrum that could reach about 75% of the U.S. population. An investment firm owned by Dell controls about another 15%.
Opposition to this expansion includes many satellite companies, AT&T, and most recently another billionaire in the form of Elon Musk. His company SpaceX is opposed to allowing an expanded use of MVDDS, claiming it would interfere with SpaceX operations, including its satellite broadband service Starlink.
All three billionaires have weighed in, including through direct discussions with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on the subject, according to a Fierce Wireless report.
For there to be any movement on this issue, the FCC would need to go through a rule making process which starts with an NPRM to gather industry input. It’s anyone’s guess as to whether that will occur, but a bunch of billionaires have a keen interest in finding out.