A few days before the New Year, Western Farmers Electric Cooperative (WFEC) wrote a letter to the FCC urging it to go forward with a plan to realign the 900 MHz band in a state that would allow current licensees (including electric utilities) to establish wireless broadband services. The proposal for realignment has been on the table for the last two years, but the Commission has yet to decide whether to proceed to a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.
“WFEC believes that the very favorable propagation characteristics of 900 MHz spectrum would enable it to deploy a broadband system in its largely rural area which is built to its specific requirements at a cost that could be supported by its members,” the Anadarko, OK -based generation and transmission utility said. “WFEC is confident that the 900 MHz proposal in this proceeding would create a broadband alternative that is very well-suited for its coverage, cost, and functionality requirements and would prove a highly attractive option for many other utilities as well.”
The Enterprise Wireless Alliance (EWA) and Pacific DataVision, Inc. (PDV) filed the realignment petition two years ago. It sought to resize currently narrowband channels into pairs of 3 MHz in the 898-901/937-40 MHz bands and pairs of 2 MHz in the 896-98/935-37 MHz bands. The FCC would then assign the resized channels to incumbent Specialized Mobile Radio (SMR) and Business/Industrial/Land Transportation (B/ILT) license holders that held sufficient spectrum in given geographic areas.
Electric utilities have not been unanimously behind realignment. The Edison Electric Institute (EEI) in May 2016 told the FCC that it was “premature” to begin a rulemaking and that its member utilities opposed the EWA/PDV petition for several reasons. “Their main concern is that the new technical parameters [the petition] propose for the 900 MHz band would result in harmful interference to incumbent operations in that band and adjacent bands. They are also concerned that degradation of the Private Land Mobile Radio service would place electrical service workers at a high safety risk and result in restoration work being delayed,” EEI said. The institute also cited potential harmful effects to adjacent SCADA and wireless AMI systems operating near 900 MHz.
NRTC in comments on the EWA/PDV petition in January 2015 said that it supported realignment “in concept,” but objected to the petition on technical grounds. “Even basic technical parameters, including power limits, authorized antenna heights, and permissible out-of-band emissions, are absent from the petition and unavailable for comment,” NRTC said.
NRTC also noted that it had distributed about 500,000 wireless AMI units to rural electric cooperatives at that time through its partnership with Sensus. It has deployed many more since then. Those radios transmit and receive over the band adjacent to 896-901/935-940 MHz.