On August 3, 2012, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted new rules to provide greater flexibility in licensing point-to-point microwave communications systems under Part 101, with the goal of facilitating backhaul from cell sites and improving broadband to rural areas. The FCC is also inviting further comment on microwave licensing issues in a Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and a Second Notice of Inquiry in this docket. In the Second Report and Order in WT Docket No. 10-153 , the FCC took the following actions:

  1. Smaller Antennas. To reduce equipment costs, microwave licensees can employ antennas that conform to relaxed technical standards, subject to the potential need to upgrade to a higher performance antenna if necessary to resolve future coordination problems.
  2. Microwave Efficiency and Loading Standards. Microwave transmitters will be subject to new payload efficiency standards that will be based on bits-per-second-per Hertz values to take into account that most microwave systems are today used for data and IP traffic and not circuit switched voice traffic. Also, the FCC adopted a new minimum loading standard that takes into account the fact that most overhead data in IP traffic is stripped out by the time the data reaches the microwave link and that many microwave systems are built in ring architectures such that they are normally loaded to less than 50% capacity to allow for rerouting of traffic in the event of a break in the ring.
  3. Rural Microwave Flexibility Policy. To allow even greater flexibility in rural areas (for example, to allow operations at a lower data rate in order to increase path length), the FCC will entertain requests for waiver of the microwave efficiency standards if the waiver request includes, among things, facts showing that the endpoints of the path are in areas of low population density, the interference environment will allow use of smaller antennas without interference, the applicant commits to upgrading to a higher quality antenna if necessary to resolve interference, and the equipment can be readily upgraded to comply with the FCC's payload capacity requirements.
  4. Wider Bandwidth Channels at 6 GHz and 11 GHz. The FCC will allow for the coordination of channel bandwidths up to 60 MHz at 6 GHz and up to 80 MHz in the 11 GHz band.
  5. Relaxed Licensing of Paths That Are Aimed Near the Geostationary Satellite Orbital Arc. The FCC eliminated the need for many fixed microwave applicants to seek a rule waiver if their proposed paths would be within 2 degrees of the geostationary satellite orbital arc, in conformance with regulations of the International Telecommunications Union that are deemed sufficient to protect satellite systems.

In addition to the rule changes summarized above, the FCC has invited further comment on the following issues:

  1. Should it allow smaller (2 foot) antennas in the 13 GHz band?
  2. Should the FCC revise its rules to specifically allow an applicant or licensee to reduce EIRP to resolve a coordination problem instead of just requiring an upgrade to a higher performance antenna?
  3. Should the FCC allow an applicant or licensee to upgrade from one type of Category B antenna to a better performing Category B antenna in order to resolve a coordination problem, instead of just requiring an upgrade to Category A?
  4. Should the FCC undertake a comprehensive review of its Part 101 antenna standards; for example, tightening antenna standards in line with those of the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), which require significantly greater suppression of far sidelobes and greater front-to-back ratios?
  5. Should the FCC revisit its definition of "congested areas" where Category A antennas are required? (The FCC last published a list of congested areas in 1983).

The FCC noted that it has several petitions related to the microwave services that it will resolve in other dockets: (1) allowing the 7125-8500 MHz band be allocated for non-federal use; (2) revising the current policy by which satellite earth station licensees coordinate for the full 360-degree azimuth range even when the station communicates with only one satellite in a limited band segment; and (3) establishing service rules for use of the 42.0-42.5 GHz band.

Comments on the Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Second Notice of Inquiry will be due 30 days after they are published in the Federal Register.