FCC Proposes Major Changes for 800 MHz Cellular Service

The FCC has adopted a Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FCC 14-181) regarding licensing and service rules for the 800 MHz cellular service. As wireless operators seek more spectrum to meet demands for wireless broadband, it makes sense to make sure the spectrum they already have is being licensed and used most efficiently.

That is one of the goals of the FCC 14-181 FNRPM, which states, “While the existing Cellular Service licensing model was instrumental over the course of decades in fostering wireless deployment throughout the United States, many of the Cellular model’s legacy elements have become unnecessary or even detrimental to system improvements that depend on deployment of the latest digital technologies. With the Report and Order, we adopt rules for the Cellular Service based on geographic licensing and achieve the regulatory reform goals articulated in the 2012 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Order.”

The revised rules establish geographic licenses based on Cellular Geographic Service Area (CGSA) boundaries and allow licensees new flexibility to improve their systems through modifications within those boundaries. Incumbents are permitted to expand their CGSA and serve indefinitely, on a secondary basis, areas smaller than 50 contiguous square miles that remain unlicensed. The new rules should make it easier to build out new systems and make major modifications to existing systems by eliminating the routine submission of 16 exhibits and other technical information that's currently required for these applications.

A new rule (Section 22.983) adopts a 40 dBμV/m field strength limit but permits neighboring licensees to negotiate a different limit (lower or higher), and specify the circumstances in which the rule applies.

In the FNPRM, the FCC proposes using power spectral density (PSD) to determine base station power and seeks comment on appropriate PSD limits. AT&T proposes 250 W/MHz ERP in non-rural areas and 500W/MHz ERP in rural areas. Union Wireless proposes 500W/MHz ERP in non-rural areas and 1,000W/MHz ERP in rural areas. Verizon Wireless proposes 1,000W/MHz ERP in non-rural areas and 2,000 W/MHz in rural areas, mirroring the power limits for 700 MHz LTE. The current limits apply to each emission or channel so a licensee using narrowband emissions can now transmit more total power per MHz than a licensee using wideband emissions. Some commenters requested allowing operation at power limits specified under the old rules in some cases. The FNPRM asks for comments on whether and how the 800 MHz Cellular height-power limit and exemption rules should be amended.

FCC 14-181 includes the revised rules and information on how to comment on the proposed changes. Comments are due 30 days after publication in the Federal Register and the reply comments deadline is 60 days after publication.

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.