Nextel alters 800 MHz proposal
Nextel Communications late Friday adjusted the “Consensus Plan” proposal it favors to resolve interference issues plaguing public-safety communications at 800 MHz by agreeing to provide public safety with an additional 2 MHz of spectrum in the band.
“To some, [2 MHz] may not sound like such a big deal, but … to public safety, it is a very big deal,” according to Nextel spokesman Tim O’Regan.
With the additional 800 MHz airwaves, the Consensus Plan now includes 4.5 MHz of spectrum for public safety—a 45% increase compared to public safety’s current 800 MHz spectrum allocation of 10 MHz. The extra 2 MHz would provide public safety with an additional 40 channels, according to Nextel.
“This additional spectrum provides capacity for thousands of additional mobile units in communities where public safety systems face serious capacity constraints,” according to Nextel’s filing with the FCC. “It also provides the essential spectrum access necessary to create the interoperable communications networks essential for public-safety officials to meet their expanded Homeland Security responsibilities.”
Nextel is increasing its offer in an attempt to convince the FCC to provide the carrier with 1.9 GHz spectrum as replacement airwaves, as part of a plan to reband 800 MHz users to mitigate interference concerns. Numerous reports indicate the FCC is seriously considering a proposal from the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA) that would award Nextel spectrum at 2.1 GHz—airwaves that were part of Nextel’s first proposal in 2001 but are no longer wanted by the cellular carrier.
In addition to the 800 MHz spectrum, the Consensus Plan calls for Nextel to provide public safety with 4 MHz in the 700 MHz band and pay $850 million to fund the 800 MHz rebanding effort. Nextel also has committed to clearing broadcasters from 35 MHz in the 1.9 GHz band—30 MHz of which could be auctioned by the FCC.
Nextel values its contributions to the Consensus Plan package at $5.155 billion—a total that includes $550 million for changes to its own network. Many believe rebanding will cost more than Nextel estimates, so most analysts believe the FCC wants the carrier to include more cash in the agreement.
But Verizon Wireless has commissioned a study that indicates the 1.9 GHz spectrum Nextel desires is worth $7.2 billion. Combined with the contiguous 800 MHz airwaves Nextel would get in place of its current interleaved spectrum in the band, an FCC award of 1.9 GHz airwaves would result in a “windfall” for Nextel, according to Verizon.
Verizon has indicated it will challenge a 1.9 GHz award in court, which likely would delay any rebanding effort, on the grounds that telecom law requires the FCC to auction spectrum to the highest bidder. However, if the FCC awards Nextel spectrum at 2.1 GHz, Verizon said it would not litigate.
Nextel has resisted 2.1 GHz spectrum, noting that it would make building a high-speed data network more expensive. In addition, it would have to clear other wireless competitors from the band before using the airwaves. Under FCC rules, Nextel could not force its competitors to vacate the airwaves for at least two years, O’Regan said.
“And two years in this day and age of innovation and technological deployment is a lifetime,” he said.