C-Band Alliance doubles spectrum offer to 200 megahertz

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WASHINGTON — Members of the C-Band Alliance on Oct. 22 increased the amount of spectrum they are willing to part with in the United States, aligning their plan more closely with that of the Federal Communications Commission as a deadline for input looms.

The group, led by Intelsat, SES, Eutelsat and Telesat — four of the world’s largest satellite operators — agreed to offer up 200 megahertz of C-band spectrum for use in 5G mobile networks, up from the 100 megahertz first proposed in February by Intelsat, Intel and SES.

Giles Thorne, an analyst at Jefferies, wrote Oct. 2, the day after the formation of the C-Band Alliance that he expected a 200 megahertz commitment “will emerge imminently,” given the U.S. Federal Communication Commission’s Oct. 29 deadline for comments on its C-band Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.

FCC Commissioner Michael O’Reilly has said more than once this year that while the satellite industry’s willingness to work on a spectrum compromise was laudable, operators would need to cede 200 or more megahertz of the band so that the U.S. could truly be ready for 5G network rollouts in the next few years.

Satellite operators currently have access to 500 megahertz of C-band in the United States. Dianne Vanbeber, Intelsat’s vice president of investor relations, said the 200-megahertz proposal is comprised of 180 megahertz of usable spectrum plus a 20-megahertz guard band separating satellite and cellular signals. Previous estimates put the guard band around 50 megahertz in size, but Intelsat says improvements in spectrum filtering technology can reduce its size. More details around the new plan will be released through comment filings due to the FCC by Oct. 29, the C-Band Alliance said.

The C-Band Alliance cautioned that repurposing up to 200 megahertz of C-band “is contingent upon a number of factors which at this stage cannot be guaranteed.” Those factors include the FCC’s acceptance of the satellite operator plan over other means to repurpose the spectrum, such as an auction, and the realization of a “satisfactory market-based process” for the transfer of the spectrum to potential 5G wireless operators.

The FCC voted to open the C-band to cellular companies in July, and outlined different ways the transfer could be facilitated. A final decision is expected between April and June next year.

Intelsat and SES have said the loss of spectrum, especially 200 megahertz or more, would require new satellites to make up for lost capacity already in orbit. Under their plan, now embraced by Eutelsat and Telesat, cellular operators would be responsible for the cost of replacement infrastructure.