Tech titan Intel and satellite operator Intelsat approached the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) this week with a pitch about allowing mobile operators to deliver 5G services over C-band spectrum shared with satellite players.

RBC Capital Markets analyst Wilton Fry, in a research note, said the proposal could be a “gold mine” for satellite operators.

The joint proposal asks the FCC to “allow co-primary terrestrial mobile operations in the 3700-4200MHz band through commercial agreements” between terrestrial and satellite companies.

“We believe that the commission should encourage primarily affected [fixed satellite services] FSS satellite operators to develop a centralised clearance mechanism that, in consultation with prospective terrestrial mobile users, would consolidate satellite operations in a portion of the 3700-4200MHz band in specific geographic areas of terrestrial interest and thus ‘clear’ portions of the C-band for terrestrial use free of interference issues in those geographic areas,” the companies wrote.

Intelsat and Intel also proposed satellite operators be permitted to sign “market-driven private agreements” with one or more mobile users, which the companies said would allow stakeholders to effectively negotiate the “economic incentive necessary” to get satellite licensees to clear part of their spectrum.

According to Intelsat, the approach could help open up new spectrum in key geographic areas including cities, and help keep the US at the forefront of 5G.

Mimosa, a US company offering fixed wireless equipment, also endorsed the idea of using a shared C-band framework to open new spectrum for wireless use.

CBRS hurdle
Interest in the C-band in the US is growing as mobile operators push toward 5G. However, the middle portion of the band from 3550MHz to 3700MHz is already allocated as a shared innovation band known as the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS).

Operators, including T-Mobile US and Verizon have been pushing the FCC to change the rules for the CBRS band so operators can use it for 5G, but the commission turned its attention elsewhere. In August, the FCC opened an inquiry into the use of spectrum between 3.7GHz and 24GHz for 5G. For the spectrum from 3.7GHz to 4.2 GHz specifically, the FCC sought comment on changes to the existing framework which could promote flexible use.

Not everyone is on board with the proposal from Intel and Intelsat. Charter Communications and the American Cable Association have argued in their own filings that cable operators rely on satellite backhaul using C-band spectrum. A report from Space News indicates satellite operators have also balked at the proposal.

The FCC is accepting comments in the proceeding until 31 October.