Rules Around the 3.5 GHz Spectrum Could Change the Way 3.65GHz is Utilized

We previously looked at some of the changes that could be coming related to the 3.5 GHz and 3.65 GHz band, but what do these really mean for energy and utility users? Are there things current and future users should be considering or watching?

The FCC recently released a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) that raised the possibility of how use of the 3.5 GHz band could be used as a model for how to revamp the current 3.65 GHz band. Depending on the details of how this was implemented, it could potentially have a huge impact on current users of 3.65 GHz spectrum. The thinking appears to be that use of some type of SAS could improve coordination and utilization across the entire 200 MHz of spectrum that would be available.

What does this mean for currently users at 3.65 GHz? The FCC seems to be looking at things in terms of a five-year technology life and a five-year license period. Given that one of the FCC’s stated goals is to optimize use of the various portions of spectrum available, it is likely that little will change immediately for current users and that any changes would be phased in roughly five years from when new rules were adopted (and licenses for the new spectrum were up for renewal).

At that point, it is more difficult to predict what users might face. It seems likely that if SAS technology was required for the 3.5 GHz band, expanding its use into the current band would make sense. This would mean that current users might face significant changes to their 3.65 GHz infrastructure if they were forced to implement a solution that supported SAS. By the time new rules are set, a spectrum auction occurred, and the five-year initial license window had passed, many current users would likely be considering a technology refresh anyway.

For users looking at green field builds at 3.65 GHz in the short-term, there is a bit more uncertainty. It is worth talking with potential vendors about their thoughts on an SAS and how their current solution might evolve to support it.

One other aspect to consider is the impact on equipment prices. Large-scale deployments by major carriers could drive the volumes of equipment being purchased significantly higher. That, along with continuing innovations in technology and design, could lead to a reduction in equipment prices that would make wireless an even more attractive option for utilities.

Almost any utility’s telecommunications portfolio is going to include a significant amount of wireless. For those using wireless solutions for “safety of life” type services (which certainly includes utilities), the decision on which spectrum and technology to use is critical. There are a number of options available and, even given some uncertainty, 3.65 GHz has an important role to play. But with the dynamic regulatory environment and rapidly evolving technology, it is also important that utilities watch the trends and changes in addition to making their voices heard regarding their need and concerns. All in all, this makes having a defined telecom strategy and a process for keeping that strategy current more important for utilities than ever before.

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