The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has adopted an Order making up to 650 MHz of additional spectrum available for point-to-point fixed wireless services in the 6875-7125 MHz and 12700-13100 MHz bands (also referred to by the FCC as the 7 GHz and 13 GHz bands, respectively). The FCC also lifted certain regulatory restrictions set forth in Part 101 of the FCC's Rules on the use of fixed microwave stations in order to provide licensees additional flexibility, reduce operational costs, and facilitate the use of fixed wireless links in rural areas.
The opening up of additional spectrum for licensing in the 7 GHz and 13 GHz bands provides potentially significant opportunities for operators of private and commercial communications networks to establish fixed wireless links for wireless backhaul and other operational and communications needs. Much of the additional 650 MHz of spectrum that will be available will be in rural areas where communications coverage and service options are often limited.
The full text of the FCC's Order, along with the FCC's request for comments on additional proposed rule changes to make the use of fixed microwave services more efficient and cost-effective, is available at WT Docket No. 10-153.
Order Opening Up Additional Spectrum
Prior to the adoption of this Order, the 7 GHz and 13 GHz bands were designated for use by broadcasters for Fixed and Mobile Broadcast Auxiliary Service (BAS) and Cable TV Relay Service (CARS). These bands are generally used for "TV pickup" stations and operations, which refers to broadcasters' use of this spectrum to transmit content from the scene of an event.
With this Order, the FCC will now permit private and commercial fixed microwave operations in the 7 GHz and 13 GHz bands, subject to the condition that new licensees in this band will be prohibited from locating their paths within the service areas of any previously licensed co-channel TV pickup stations. In addition, fixed microwave operators must coordinate any new fixed links with TV pickup stations within the appropriate coordination zones. In exchange for opening this spectrum for use by non-broadcasters, the FCC eliminated the "final link" rule that had restricted how broadcasters could use the 7 GHz and 13 GHz bands.
In addition, the FCC amended its Part 101 minimum payload capacity requirements to allow licensees to utilize "adaptive modulation" (i.e., a temporary reduction in a link's data rate) to overcome atmospheric fading. Finally, the FCC declined to adopt a proposal that would have allowed licensees to coordinate and deploy shorter "auxiliary" links within the coordinated service contour of their licensed primary links. However, the FCC encouraged proponents of the "auxiliary station" concept to continue developing and refining it for possible future consideration.
The new rules discussed above will go into effect 30 days after the FCC's Order is published in the Federal Register (which has not yet occurred). However, spectrum in the 7 GHz and 13 GHz bands will likely not be available for licensing until later due to the need to integrate data regarding the current use of these bands into the FCC's Universal Licensing System (ULS).
Proposed New Rules for Fixed Wireless Services
Along with this Order, the FCC also issued a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) requesting comment on additional ways to increase the flexibility, capacity, and cost-effectiveness of the microwave bands, such as allowing smaller antennas to be used in the 6, 18, and 23 GHz bands and allowing wider channels in the 6 GHz and 11 GHz bands.
Comments on these proposals will be due October 4, 2011, with reply comments due October 25, 2011.