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'C-band' 5G spectrum dispute in the US enters its final phase

FCC headquarters
(Image credit: Future)

A legal case to halt the C-band 5G spectrum in the United States by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been denied by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

The case was brought before the court by Bermuda-based ABS, Hispasat from Spain, and Argentine satellite operator Arsat – operating under the ‘Small Satellite Operators’ banner – with the companies saying that the C-band auction in December 2020 will rob them of their spectrum rights. (These companies are not eligible for the auction, which – the group says –  will transfer billions of dollars to its larger competitors.)

Unfair advantage

The operators filed a complaint with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on May 1st, arguing that the repurposing of 300 megahertz of C-band for 5G networks would give their competitors an unfair advantage.

The FCC chief of staff, Matthew Berry, was ebullient following the news that the case had been rejected, and he tweeted his support for the decision.

“The D.C. Circuit has DENIED the motion to stay the FCC's C-Band Order,” Berry wrote. “All systems go for the C-Band auction to begin on December 8.  Great news for American consumers and U.S. leadership in 5G!”

Lower, C-band spectrum is a vital piece of the 5G puzzle, as it provides a  compromise between the broad coverage of lower frequencies, and the higher capacity of mmWave 5G. C-band spectrum sits between 3.4 GHz and 4.2 GHz and has become much sought after, as it doesn’t require new cell sites (like mmWave), and it has fewer challenging propagation conditions, working in non-line-of-sight (NLOS) environments, and facilitating indoor 5G usage.

FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai, welcomed the Court’s decision, saying that the ruling was great news for US consumers and for the nation's leadership position in 5G. 

“I am very pleased that the D.C. Circuit rejected this attempt by small satellite operators with no US operations in the C-band to delay our efforts to repurpose critical mid-band spectrum.”

“I am very pleased that the D.C. Circuit rejected this attempt by small satellite operators with no US operations in the C-band to delay our efforts to repurpose critical mid-band spectrum,” Pai said. “The FCC will continue to defend our order on the merits, and I look forward to our C-band auction beginning on December 8th.”

Despite this decision being taken, and the FCC auction being given the go-ahead for December 8th, it will not be the end of the Small Satellite Operators’ push for compensation, and Phil Spector, a consultant for the operators, said it was “not at all the end of the road”, as the group will now fight the decision in the court of appeals.

Dan is a British journalist with 20 years of experience in the design and tech sectors, producing content for the likes of Microsoft, Adobe, Dell and The Sunday Times. In 2012 he helped launch the world's number one design blog, Creative Bloq. Dan is now editor-in-chief at 5Gradar, where he oversees news, insight and reviews, providing an invaluable resource for anyone looking to stay up-to-date with the key issues facing 5G.