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Commission Expected to Adopt Order Expanding LTE Coverage

Randy Sukow Mar 20, 2017

The agenda for the FCC’s monthly meeting this Thursday (March 23) includes an order to eliminate what it calls “outdated” regulations for the 800 MHz Cellular Service. The goal is to expand the available capacity for high-speed mobile data communications. Published reports indicate that the order is likely to pass without controversy.

“The revisions we adopt today will reduce barriers to innovation and investment in new technologies, reduce unnecessary regulatory burdens on licensees, promote greater spectrum efficiency, and facilitate the deployment of ubiquitous broadband connectivity demanded by consumers in the 800 MHz Cellular spectrum,” the FCC says in a draft of the order it released earlier this month.

The first analog mobile phone devices in the 1980s transmitted over the 800 MHz Cellular Service. There was spectrum space for just two cellular providers in every market, leading consumer advocates to complain about the “cellular duopoly” and a lack of competition. The FCC responded by auctioning spectrum for the 1.9 GHz Personal Communications Service (PCS) in the 1990s, just as the first digital cellular technologies began to appear in commercial networks.

Over the years, wireless technology advanced to third and fourth generations and today’s LTE networks. The FCC continued auctioning new bands for mobile phones to meet the growing demand, including the 1.7 GHz Advanced Wireless Service (AWS) and the 700 MHz band. However, technical regulations that continued to govern the original 800 MHz service limited carriers’ ability to operate LTE there. Thursday’s order seeks to reverse that.

Specifically, the order would increase the allowable transmission power for 800 MHz service. The Commission was especially careful to increase the potential coverage of LTE in the band while at the same time protecting existing public safety services licensed in nearby bands.

“We also find that it serves the public interest to apply to [power spectral density] operations the doubling of power in rural counties, defined as counties with population densities of 100 persons or fewer per square mile, based on the most recently available population statistics from the Bureau of the Census,” says the draft order. “Our decision is consistent with the radiated power rules adopted for other commercial wireless services, which also include doubled PSD limits to facilitate economical coverage in rural areas.”

Also on Thursday, the FCC is likely to propose additional changes to the Cellular Service by eliminating outdated nontechnical rules that require carriers to perform currently unnecessary filing and reporting.

Update, March 23: The FCC adopted the Cellular Service Reform order and further notice unanimously, as expected. Chairman Ajit Pai noted that the Commercial Cellular Service Rules date back to 1981, the same year that MTV launched on cable. “MTV has evolved since the inception, but the [cellular} rules I mentioned and that were observed in the presentation have largely stayed the same,” he said. “The legacy rules limit wireless coverage for companies that want to deploy LTE. That state of affairs changes today. The reforms we are adopting will help wireless companies better meet consumer demand for mobile conductivity and continue to innovate by facilitating the use of cellular spectrum to provide advanced services like LTE.”

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