900 MHz, Spectrum Top EWA Wireless Leadership Summit Discussion
Tuesday, October 11, 2016 | Comments

At the Enterprise Wireless Alliance (EWA) Wireless Leadership Summit in Dallas, Oct. 6, pdvWireless Vice Chairman Morgan O’Brien gave an update on his request to realign 900 MHz channels, and EWA President and CEO Mark Crosby spoke about the importance of spectrum allocation.

Two years after pdvWireless and EWA filed a petition with the FCC to realign the Part 90 LMR channels in the 900 MHz band, originally allocated in 1985 as a 5-by-5-megahertz block, O’Brien and Crosby are still adamant that realigning the channels for critical industry broadband and narrowband use is the best way forward. At this point, there is no way to know exactly what the FCC will do, O’Brien said.

“We believe you’re never 100 percent sure,” he said. “A notice of inquiry has been prepared and has worked its way through the Wireless Bureau and Chairman’s Office. It takes three votes out of five to be approved … We really don’t have a clue. When and if commissioners act on it, there’s no sure process on how long it may take. ”

When the 900 MHz allocation was made, two different kinds of licenses were assigned; SMRs make up nearly half of the channels allocated, while the other half are site-specific, he said. After a 2014 purchase, pdvWireless is now the largest holder of the 896 — 901/935 — 940 MHz band with a nationwide footprint of licenses.

The 2014 pdvWireless and EWA petition proposed a realignment including a sub-divided band with a 2-by-2-megahertz block for narrowband and a 3-by-3-megahertz block for broadband. The remaining segment would consist of a 2-by-2 block for site-based and geographic narrowband operations, according to pdvWireless’ website. O’Brien advocates moving site-specific incumbents down to the 2-by-2 narrowband block of the 900 MHz spectrum to make broadband available in the band, he said.

O’Brien briefly spoke about the noise floor issues specific to realigning the 900 MHz channels. The introduction of a new technology increases the noise floor. “That’s when the question, ‘Does the incumbent have rights?’ comes up,” he said. “It’s not a cut-and-dry process, but it’s an interesting one.”

“Getting it right means protecting incumbents in a reasonable way and doing everything possible to promote new technology, greater efficiency and competition,” O’Brien said. “You must be very realistic to where we are in the history of spectrum management. I’ve been around long enough to see several different flavors and styles of spectrum management … They’re (FCC) going to examine every argument made by an incumbent that tries to block the expanded use of spectrum.”

Crosby said all bands are subject to change, and although the 900 MHz allocation has been stagnant, it’s in use, with nearly 800 systems in operation at 900 MHz.

As for spectrum allocation in general, the fight is on. “The biggest threat to all of us, and the No. 1 thing that’s damaging our industry the most, is speculators,” said Crosby, singling out the 800 MHz band.

“At a minimum, you have to let customers in the 800 MHz have a chance, because if not they’ll (speculators) be there by the thousands,” he said. “We have to get a head start on this before the great unwashed comes in and takes spectrum that’s already ours.”

EWA works hard to drive spectrum allocation, and members are scraping for whatever 800 MHz channel licenses are left and not used by the public-safety industry to avoid being stuck with only 450 MHz channels, he said.

While sharing is inevitable, it’s important for users to obtain more spectrum for broadband use and create a mutual balance with entities such as the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), which is losing spectrum because of the need for broadband. Eventually, everything will have to be shared, he said.

Who’s actually using the system is going to become less relevant, and the priority will be more about providing greater access in a controlled, proper way, Crosby said.

“The future of the business is spectrum management, and EWA has to adapt, so I can continue to add benefits and services,” he said. “It’s time to get more incumbents ready to file for 800 MHz.”

The importance of changing the way EWA does business has been key. Changing technology has eased the process of acquiring spectrum, and the alliance is taking advantage of tools. Since 2014, EWA has offered Cevo, a mobile application designed to help end users choose the best available frequencies based on their local markets. Crosby said he hopes more people use the application to pick their frequencies and be in control of their own decisions.

“Less than 5 percent of people are using Cevo Pro,” he said. “Please just take care of this for me. My mission is to give tools and software so you can make the decision. With this, there are no forms. You pick them (frequencies) and it’s done... If you can book a vacation to Singapore in three minutes, I don’t know why you can’t pick up five frequencies just as fast.”

The significance of the software can help stop a “mucked up” application from being sent to the FCC, which will ultimately lead to EWA having to step in and clarify inaccuracies.

“You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out an application on the internet,” Crosby said. “Your mission is to help customers get what they need out of spectrum; your mission is to help them get where they need to go,” he said.

With spectrum, Crosby said he still has faith in the FCC, because despite the upcoming changes in the presidential administration and Congress, the priorities of the FCC are spectrum efficiency while promoting broadband.

“We (EWA and FCC) may not always agree, but they put their skirts and pants on one leg at a time and work really hard for us,” he said. “They do the best they can with limited resources.”

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