The promise of self-driving cars, smart cities and the internet of things has captured America’s imagination. Mobile connectivity is transforming our social and working lives in ways that were almost unimaginable a decade ago, and at a dramatically increasing pace.
A new, fifth-generation of wireless technology, or 5G, is nearing commercial deployment, ushering in a wealth of new possibilities that include less traffic congestion, entertainment on the go and connected household appliances. But none of this will happen without access to the key resource that underpins it all: spectrum.
But there is a problem. The radio spectrum at 3700-4200 MHz, known as C-band, is ideal for the 5G services the mobile network operators want to introduce, but it is equally important to the transmission of television signals enjoyed by more than 100 million Americans. Those TV signals are distributed via a satellite infrastructure, built with billions of dollars of investment in space and on the ground over the last 40 years.
Which would you choose? High-quality television for everyone, or next-generation wireless services? Because without careful management, trying to use the same spectrum for both will cause unavoidable interference, degrading the pristine TV signals that comprise the daily lineup of nearly every channel in America.
Intelsat doesn’t believe Americans should have to choose. Working with colleagues at Intel and SES, we have developed an approach that allows joint use of C-band, maintaining the TV and other services so highly prized today, while also allowing mobile companies to introduce the wireless services of tomorrow.
It’s an approach that will deliver the fastest path to 5G deployments, and it is based on the power of the market, not on government mandates. And it will allow us to continue to serve the U.S. television sector with confidence and quality.
Under our proposal to the Federal Communications Commission, satellite operators would be given the directive to manage an open process to determine commercial interest in joint-use spectrum, and then to implement the technical solution to make available a block of cleared spectrum for 5G use. This approach provides certainty about the future services in the remainder of the band to customers, including leading television companies and government.
Our proposal recognizes the willingness of the FCC to embrace creative and market-based solutions to the C-band dilemma. The FCC is to be applauded for encouraging this approach, and for maintaining an accelerated process which could result in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking as early as July 2018.
The technological challenges are significant but can be overcome. Joint use is complex and costly, and requires significant know-how from the satellite industry, but it’s achievable so long as the satellite operators are allowed to manage the process.
This plan offers a win for everyone. The companies that have invested billions in C-band infrastructure and services over the last 40 years will be able to protect the services for their customers and be incentivized appropriately for enabling joint use and the opportunity cost incurred. The wireless service providers who are bringing 5G technologies to market will have the spectrum they require to unlock that engine of innovation. And most of all, consumers win through uninterrupted television programming and access to future technologies.
In the past, government-mandated solutions have been cumbersome and attracted litigation. Worst of all, they’ve been slow. Past mandates have taken over a decade to be implemented. Our proposal has the advantage of speed. The future and the opportunity to create another avenue of growth for our economy cannot wait.
It’s time for all stakeholders to embrace this opportunity for the public and private sectors to create more economic opportunity for themselves, American business and U.S. consumers.
Stephen Spengler is CEO of Intelsat, the world’s leading satellite service provider, delivering critical broadband connectivity and media content distribution to businesses and communities in over 200 countries.
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