The FCC Tuesday issued use rules for Dish's 40 MHz of spectrum in the AWS-4 band, and they're not exactly what the company had hoped for.
In its order, the FCC said it declined a proposal presented by Dish that would have included shifting the AWS-4 uplink spectrum up five MHz to protect the adjacent H-block, a piece of spectrum in which Sprint has expressed interest.
Instead, the FCC imposed even harsher restrictions on power levels and a larger protection band for Dish's spectrum, rules that favor use of the H-block, which the FCC sees as a major revenue source at auction.
Dish had previously offered to voluntarily designate the lowest 5 MHz of its uplink spectrum (2000-2005 MHz) as an internal terrestrial guard band, provided that safeguards were adopted to ensure that the remaining 15 MHz of its uplink spectrum (2005-2020 MHz) "could be utilized as fully and as quickly as possible for mobile broadband.”
The FCC's move to limit the spectrum could weigh heavily on Dish's plans going forward. CEO Charlie Ergen previously told The Wall Street Journal that should the FCC push further limitations on its spectrum, it would likely be a "game-changer" for the company. Ergen has repeatedly said all options are on the table, including bringing a partner into its plans, or even selling its spectrum outright, depending on what the FCC decided.
Following the 3GPP's release of technical specs for the AWS-4 spectrum, Dish had also argued that any further delay in the FCC's process could have a negative effect on Dish's time to market. In its report, the FCC called these claims "unsupported, speculative and vague," noting that the "impact of not adopting these rules is clear and detrimental to the public interest."
Sprint, which has said it will likely bid on the H-block, has claimed that if the FCC were to limit the H-block to only small cell use or air-to-ground communications, it likely would not bid on that spectrum. In the past, Dish has argued that a "full-power" H-block would cause at least 25 percent of its uplink to become unusable, a claim Sprint has said is erroneous.
Concurrent with the FCC's publishing of the rules of the AWS-4 spectrum, the Commission also published rules for auction of the H-block. The auction will include 10 MHz in the 1915-1920 MHz uplink and 1995-2000 MHz downlink bands. Sprint is interested in the spectrum because it is directly adjacent to spectrum it owns in the G-block, where it is rolling out its LTE network.
In its order, the FCC also levied a timetable on the spectrum, saying that Dish, or anyone else who might own the AWS-4 airwaves, must deploy a network that covers 40 percent of the country within four years, and 70 percent within seven years. If said company cannot meet the four-year requirement, it must then ensure that it will hit the 70 percent coverage mark within six years.
Sprint wasn't the only company that had reservations about Dish's plans. Other parties argued for more fundamental changes to the band plans identified in the AWS-4 NPRM. T-Mobile argued that Dish should be given the opportunity to relinquish 20 MHz of MSS spectrum in return for full terrestrial rights on the remaining 20 megahertz, which would have left a remaining 20 megahertz of valuable terrestrial spectrum for auction and would offer benefits such as preventing windfalls and promoting competition and a diversity of ownership.