FiberTower agreed to return all of its 24GHz licences and a portion of its 39GHz licences to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to settle ongoing litigation.
As part of a sprawling agreement, the spectrum holder promised to terminate two different court proceedings and pay the US treasury $27 million in exchange for reinstatement of its remaining licences, with an extended construction deadline.
AT&T, which quietly agreed to acquire FiberTower in early 2017, told Mobile World Live (MWL) the settlement will not impact the deal.
FiberTower and the US regulator were locked in litigation regarding a 2012 bankruptcy case in which a court blocked the FCC from offloading the company’s mmWave licences: a stay which remained in effect despite FiberTower subsequently emerging from bankruptcy protection.
A separate legal battle covered a failure by FiberTower to meet buildout requirements for its mmWave licences.
The FCC believes the deal is in the public interest because it ends the legal action and restores regulatory certainty in the 24GHz and 39GHz bands. The regulator also noted the agreement frees up a large portion of the 24GHz band for 5G licensing, which it said will enable “rapid deployment of 5G and next generation wireless services nationwide”.
FiberTower held a total of 689 mmWave licences, including 94 in the 24GHz band and 595 in the 39GHz band. The company will come out of the settlement retaining approximately 478 licences in the 39GHz band.
AT&T at 39GHz
An AT&T representative called the settlement “fair” and told MWL it is “happy with the FCC’s decision”, adding the operator still expects its acquisition to be approved, hopefully in the “near future”.
The representative said mmWave spectrum is “important to our 5G strategy” and reiterated its commitment to become the first operator to introduce mobile 5G in a dozen US markets later this year.
AT&T’s work in the 39GHz band is already well underway. Shortly after announcing the FiberTower deal, AT&T conducted fixed-wireless 5G streaming tests with Nokia at 39GHz.
In December 2017, AT&T applied for permission to expand its existing fixed-wireless 28GHz 5G trials at three sites throughout the US into the 37GHz and 39GHz bands. The operator said it would use data collected from the trials to assess the viability of mmWave bands “to support 5G wireless communication systems and to validate 5G system designs operating in a non-simulated business and residential environments” in the latter bands.