YOU ARE AT:CarriersFCC implements lower 700 MHz interoperability plan

FCC implements lower 700 MHz interoperability plan

The Federal Communications Commission has put the finishing touches on ensuring interoperability across the lower 700 MHz spectrum band, announcing a modification to AT&T’s lower B- and C-Block licenses to require interoperability with the adjacent A-Block. The modification call for the inclusion of AT&T’s deployment of a multi-frequency band indicator software feature and to the carrier’s transition to Band Class 12 capable devices.

“We find that modifying AT&T’s licenses in this manner will serve the public interest by enabling consumers, especially in rural areas, to enjoy the benefits of greater competition and more choices, and by encouraging efficient use of spectrum, investment, job creation, and the development of innovative mobile broadband services and equipment.,” the FCC noted in its order of modification.

As part of the decision, the FCC laid out a number of requirements AT&T would have to adhere to, including deadlines. Those include:

–AT&T must fully deploy MFBI software feature in its 700 MHz network by Sept. 30, 2015. However, if AT&T finds that implementation of the software results in network issues for its customer base, it can file for a delay in the deadline.

–Once MFBI software has been fully implemented, AT&T has to provide LTE roaming to carriers with compatible Band 12 devices.

–During the first year of the rollout of Band Class 12-compatible devices, 50% of “all new unique devices that operate on the paired lower 700 MHz bands, as identified by unique SKU numbers, introduced by AT&T into its device portfolio will be Band 12 capable devices.” That percentage increases to 75% in the second year and 100% after that. Those “unique” devices will not include “memory or color finish variations on a single device,” according to the FCC.

–AT&T is to provide written reports to the FCC on a periodic basis updating the agency on its progress in meeting the requirements.

The move follows AT&T’s announcement last September that it would be willing to work the FCC 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.

A block 700 map

The initial interference concerns were centered on D- and E-Block licenses impending on operations in the lower A-Block that a number of rural carriers currently control. The issue was pushed to the forefront by the establishment of the Band Class 17 standard that included spectrum licenses in the lower B- and C-Blocks, but did not include the lower A-Block. AT&T was a major proponent of Band Class 17 noting that interference concerns in the lower A-Block could cause service issues for customers if that band was included in the standard. A separate standard – Band Class 12 – was set up to include the lower A-, B- and C-Blocks. The FCC in late October moved on AT&T’s offer, releasing an order to establish lower 700 MHz interoperability across those bands.

The move comes just days after T-Mobile US and Verizon Wireless announced a spectrum swap that will see T-Mobile US pick up a substantial portfolio of 700 MHz A-Block licenses in exchange for some 1.7/2.1 GHz and 1.9 GHz spectrum licenses. T-Mobile US noted that the deal will result in the carrier controlling sub-1 GHz spectrum licenses in 21 of the nation’s top 30 markets and approximately 158 million potential customers. T-Mobile US had previously controlled a 700 MHz A-Block license covering Boston, and with the new deal adds coverage to New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Washington D.C., and Detroit.

For other A-Block license holders, having a larger carrier on board to offer services in that band is expected to help drive down cost of associated equipment and foster larger roaming opportunities.

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