The Federal Communications Commission recently adopted rules implementing the Beat CHINA for 5G Act, enacted in December 2020, which requires the FCC, by December 31, 2021, to begin an auction for new licenses authorizing flexible use of the 3.45 GHz (3450-3550 MHz) band.
The new rules establish the 3.45 GHz Service, making additional mid-band spectrum available for 5G wireless services. The rules generally align with existing rules governing mobile services in adjacent mid-band spectrum, particularly the 3.7 GHz band.
Allocation for Commercial Wireless Use. The FCC added a primary non-federal fixed and mobile (except aeronautical mobile) allocation to the 3.45 GHz band nationwide, harmonizing the 3.45 GHz band with international allocations.
Band Plan and Geographic Areas. Licenses will be auctioned in 10 MHz blocks, with ten blocks (Blocks A through J) available in each of 415 partial economic areas (PEAs), excluding PEAs covering Alaska, Hawaii, U.S. territories, and the Gulf of Mexico. This contrasts with the adjacent CBRS (10 MHz blocks licensed on a county basis) and the 3.7 GHz band (20 MHz blocks licensed by PEAs). Like the CBRS and 3.7 GHz bands, the auctioned 3.45 GHz band channels will be offered on an unpaired basis.
Mid-Band Synchronization. The FCC encourages, but does not require, intra-band TDD synchronization where possible. A CBRS operator may request information from a 3.45 GHz Service licensee to enable cross-service TDD synchronization if the CBRS operator provides (or intends to provide) service in the same or adjacent geographic area as that of the licensee. The licensee must provide sufficient information to allow the CBRS operator to synchronize its system with the 3.45 GHz band system. Negotiations over the information to be provided must be conducted in good faith, but the licensee is not required to change its operations or proposed operations.
Mobile Spectrum Holding Policies. A licensee may aggregate up to four blocks in a PEA. This 40 MHz cap will apply for four years following the auction. The total 100 MHz of 3.45 GHz band spectrum will be added to the spectrum screen for post-auction review of secondary market transactions.
License Term and Renewal. The license term will be 15 years. To be eligible for renewal, a licensee must demonstrate that during the license term, it either (1) provided and continues to provide service to the public, or (2) operated and continues to operate the license to meet the licensee's private, internal communications needs. A licensee also must satisfy the following performance requirements:
- If offering mobile or point-to-multipoint service, a licensee must provide reliable signal coverage and offer service to at least 45% of the population in each of its license areas within 4 years of license grant, and to at least 80% of the population in each of its license areas within 8 years of grant.
- If providing point-to-point service, a licensee must demonstrate within 4 years of license grant that it has 4 links operating and is providing service to customers or for internal use where the population in each license area is equal to or less than 268,00 people; where population in a license area is greater than 268,000, it must show that at least 1 link is in operation and providing service to customers or for internal use, for every 67,000 persons within the area. And, by 8 years after license grant, the licensee must have 8 links operating and providing service to customers or for internal use where the population within the license area is equal to or less than 268,000, or if the population is greater, that it is providing service and has at least 2 links in operation and provide service to customers or for internal use per every 67,000 persons within the area.
- A licensee providing IoT-type services must provide geographic area coverage to 35% of the license area within 4 years of license grant and to 65% of the license area within 8 years of grant.
Cooperative Sharing with Federal Incumbents. The 3.45 GHz band currently is used by the Department of Defense for fixed, mobile, shipborne, and airborne radar systems. The new rules establish a cooperative sharing regime, pursuant to which new 3.45 GHz Service systems generally will have full-power use of the entire band across the contiguous U.S. However, in 33 Cooperative Planning Areas (CPAs), which include military training facilities, test sites, and Navy ports and shipyards, new licensees and incumbent federal operations must coordinate shared use during specified times. In these CPAs, new licensees may not cause harmful interference to federal systems and may be required to modify their operations (e.g., reduce power, add filters adjust antenna pointing angles, install shielding, etc.) to protect against harmful interference. Similarly, in 23 Periodic Use Areas (PUAs), non-federal licensees must coordinate their operations and may need to temporarily modify their operations to protect federal operations. New licensees and federal operators may enter into agreements to permit more extensive commercial use. Cooperative sharing is required only in portions of a PEA that are within the defined boundaries of a CPA or PUA.
The new rules establish baseline coordination procedures pursuant to which a licensee must coordinate with federal incumbents before beginning operations in a CPA or PUA. Coordination must be initiated by the licensee. A formal coordination request generally may not be submitted until 9 months after the date of the auction closing Public Notice.
- Base stations in non-rural areas may operate at up to 1640 watts/MHz EIRP.
- Base stations in rural areas may operate at double the non-rural EIRP limit.
- The adopted power spectral density limit applies to emissions of all bandwidths.
- Power limits apply to the aggregate power of all antenna elements in any given sector of a base station.
- Mobile devices may operate at up to 1 Watt (30 dBm) EIRP.
- Base stations must suppress emissions beyond the edge of their authorization to a conducted power level of -13 dBm/MHz. In addition, the FCC adopted limits of equal or less than -13 dBm/MHz from edge of the band to 10 MHz down (3440 MHz) and up (3560 MHz); equal to or less than -25 dBm/MHz beyond the 10 MHz offset from the band edge between 3440 and 3430 MHz and between 3560 and 3570 MHz; and equal to or less than -40 dBm/MHz below 3430 MHz and above 3570 MHz.
- Mobile units must suppress conducted emissions to no more than -13 dBm/MHz outside their authorized frequency band.
- To determine OOBE, a resolution bandwidth of 1 MHz or greater will be used, except in the 1 MHz bands immediately outside and adjacent to the licensee's block, where a resolution bandwidth of at least 1% of the emission bandwidth (limited to a maximum of 200 khz) may be used.
- Workshops between the DoD and industry, and subsequent ongoing efforts, will develop further protections for federal operations in the 3.55-3.65 GHz band and below 3.45 GHz.
- There is a -76 dBm/m2 /MHz power flux density (PFD) limit, at a height of 1.5 meters above ground, at licensees' service area boundaries; licensees operating in adjacent geographic areas may voluntarily agree to higher levels at their common boundaries.
- There is no limit on antenna height (other than general prohibitions on not impacting air navigation safety).
- Licensed operations must not cause harmful interference across the Canadian and Mexican borders.
- General Part 27 rules will apply to 3.45 GHz Service licenses; these include equipment authorization; RF safety; protection of adjacent channels; and frequency stability.
- Client devices must be capable of operating across the entire 3.45 GHz band.
Competitive Bidding Rules. The FCC's general competitive bidding rules will apply to the 3.45 GHz Service auction (Auction 110). In a separate Public Notice, the FCC is seeking comment on auction procedures.
Auction Reserve Price. The reserve price for the auction of 3.45 GHz band licenses will be at least 110% of expected federal relocation costs, based on the estimate of relocation costs provided by NTIA. The FCC has requested comment on setting the aggregate reserve price for all license at $14,775,354,300.
Bidding Credits. An entity with average annual gross revenues (AAGR) for the preceding five years not exceeding $55 million will qualify as a “small business,” and is eligible for a 15% bidding credit, and an entity with AAGR for the preceding five years not exceeding $20 million will qualify as a “very small business,” eligible for a 25% bidding credit. Rural Service Providers (entities that serve predominantly rural areas and have fewer than 250,000 combined wireless, wireline, broadband and cable subscribers) will be eligible for a 15% bidding credit.
Relocation of Secondary Non-Federal Radiolocation Operations. Within 180 days after new 3.45 GHz Service licenses are granted, secondary, non-federal radiolocation licensees in the 3.3-3.55 GHz band must relocate their operations. New licensees must reimburse the incumbents for reasonable costs related to the relocation of their operations to the 2.9-3.0 GHz band. The FCC noted that only seven licensees need to relocate, and that the overall estimated reimbursement costs should be minimal. Relocation costs will be divided by the number of 3.45 GHz Service licenses and each licensee must pay its share based on the number of licenses its holds.