Small Cells Featured Article
Will Small Cells Leveraging the Government 3.5MHz Band Bring Opportunity or Challenges?
September 26, 2012
By Susan J. Campbell, TMCnet Contributing Editor
The 3.5GHz band has not enjoyed the popularity that other bands are given in this age of mobile technology. Mobile operators haven’t sought out solutions toward the 3.5MHz band simply because it’s a band used almost exclusively by government agencies, mostly military. At the same time, it’s expensive to put much infrastructure toward a short range band such as the 3.5.
This Rethink Wireless report highlights that most of the expense comes from having to invest in base stations, and still, there could be issues with interference. President Obama’s administration outlined in 2009 under the National Broadband Plan, to bring 500MHz more spectrum to users over the next 10 years, and 3.5GHz is factoring into that plan.
It’s clear that the 3.5GHz is taking a step up in visibility as the FCC (News - Alert) recently announced its plans to put small cells on the 3.5 path by way of licensing with the appropriate carriers. The 3.5 is thought of as a good band for small cells and could produce more capacity because of its availability across the globe.
The FCC has in the past granted experimental licenses to operate in the 3.5GHz range, but not widely. Previously, the FCC opened a lightly regulated band at 3.65HGz. The band is being used to some success with WiMAX gear.
The FCC’s plan includes giving more access to band to carriers, who would have to share it with government users already on the 3.5GHz band. The plan also includes bringing 100MHz to small cells to help produce a thicker layer of capacity for mobile devices.
Opening up 100MHz to extend further capacity and capabilities is not without its doubts- many carriers don’t think sharing with the federal users already on the 3.5 is a good idea. Could the combination of small cells and additional users put proprietary information or users at risk?
The President’s Council of Advisors on Policy and Technology (PCAST) has focused on bringing what have traditionally been underused bands into a higher level of use through offering up the waves to enterprises outside of government agencies. PCAST’s move in this direction has really heightened the visibility of the issue, and the plan is to get the ball rolling before the year is out.
While the PCAST hasn’t specifically mentioned sharing 3.5 with radar applications, many in the industry believe this is also part of the plan. But even a good idea is rarely introduced in this space without some controversy. Carriers are suspicious because they believe this could bring more problems than the FCC is willing to admit, or even willing to help address when they come to the forefront.
Small cells have increasingly been brought into the equation when the subject of increasing connectivity to mobile users comes up. The government’s plan to bring the 3.5 band into the mix may have its detractors, but should give another option in bringing more connectivity to an increasingly mobile market. The challenge among carriers may come in the form of using other bands to accomplish a similar goal, thereby protecting themselves from the problems that could emerge by using a band previously reserved for military and government purposes.
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Edited by Stefanie Mosca
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