The heated battle over 700 MHz interoperability may be set to cool as AT&T announced it would be willing to work the Federal Communications Commission and current lower 700 MHz license holders on a solution to disputed interference concerns.
In a filing with the FCC, AT&T said it “is committed to supporting lower 700 MHz interoperability for all paired spectrum in the lower 700 MHz band if certain conditions are met.” Those conditions included harmonization on rules governing maximum signal power for spectrum in the E-Block; and the eventual implementation of network technology allowing for support of both Band Class 12 and Band Class 17. AT&T also threw its support behind a filing by Dish Network that looks to clear up lower 700 MHz spectrum concerns.
“AT&T, for its part, has committed to investing considerable time and resources to the modification of its 700 MHz LTE network through the implementation of a newly-standardized software feature,” explained Joan Marsh, VP of federal regulatory at AT&T. “That effort will allow AT&T’s network to support Band 12 capable devices. AT&T has also committed to working collaboratively with its chipset partners and OEMs to introduce, within a reasonable time frame, new Band 12 capable devices into its device portfolio.”
To support both Band Class 12 and Band Class 17 on its network, AT&T noted that it would need to “develop, implement and deploy throughout its network multi-frequency band indicator or MFBI capabilities.” The carrier explained that this recently standardized technology will require lab and real-world testing in order to ensure it works without impacting current Band Class 17 devices. AT&T added that since it does not control any A-Block spectrum licenses it expects to have to test the equipment on its own B- and C-Block licenses.
“In all events, AT&T reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to plan and manage lower 700 MHz interoperability support in a manner that will not disrupt existing services, strand existing devices or result in unnecessary cost or delay,” the carrier noted in its filing.
The FCC applauded the breakthrough, noting the solution should be a big win for wireless consumers, especially those in rural markets.
“America’s mobile consumers have a reason to celebrate today: After many frustrating years, wireless
carriers have finally reached a voluntary industry solution that will resolve the lack of interoperability in
the lower 700 MHz band in the most efficient manner,” said Acting FCC Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn, in a statement. “This is a big win for consumers, especially in rural areas, who will see more competition and more choices. Also, by making it easier for small wireless carriers to compete, today’s interoperability solution will spur private investment, job creation, and the development of innovative new services and devices.”
Interoperability in the lower 700 MHz spectrum bands revolves around interference concerns between television transmissions operating in channel 51 adjacent to the A-Block uplink channel and from the unpaired E-Block slice of 700 MHz spectrum operating adjacent to the A-Block downlink channel. AT&T has contended that this interference impacts use of the A-Block license and thus pushed to have the Band Class 17 standard approved that includes just the lower B- and C-Block 700 MHz licenses.
Opponents to AT&T’s plans have noted that interference is not an issue and that the lower A-Block licenses should be included with the B- and C-Block to form Band Class 17. This group includes a number of wireless carriers that acquired A-Block spectrum licenses in 2008, but have been unable to tap into a larger ecosystem to acquire equipment at lower prices as well as have been unable to tap into potential nationwide roaming agreements.
One of those carriers is U.S. Cellular, which has moved forward with its LTE deployment plans using A-Block licenses despite the limitations. The carrier was obviously positive on the latest development.
“This decision will accelerate the development of new and innovative broadband devices throughout the 700 MHz band and ensure that consumers will have multiple options for service and devices,” Ken Meyers, recently named president and CEO of U.S. Cellular, noted in a statement.
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