News Analysis MIKE DANO, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies 4/27/2021
The FCC approved a request by SpaceX’s Starlink to make changes to its constellation of low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites. The ruling represents a setback to Starlink competitors like Viasat and Amazon that had argued against the changes, as well as a knock against Dish Network.
For its part, Dish has been vehemently urging the FCC to reject the requests by SpaceX to modify its satellite operations. Dish’s ultimate goal is to get the agency to allow 5G operations in the 12GHz band – the same band that SpaceX is in part using for its expanding LEO satellite Internet services.
“Dish reiterates its request that any grant of SpaceX’s … modification should exclude the 12GHz band,” Dish wrote to the FCC just last week.
But the FCC announced Tuesday it plans to take the opposite approach.
“We grant subject to the conditions set forth herein the application of Space Exploration Holdings, LLC (SpaceX) for modification of its license for a non-geostationary orbit (NGSO) fixed-satellite service (FSS) constellation,” the agency wrote in a new order. SpaceX requested a number of changes to its LEO satellites, including lowering their altitude from around 680 miles above Earth’s surface to around 335 miles. The agency said SpaceX can continue to use the 12GHz band for its operations.
However, the agency didn’t shut the door to eventually allowing 5G operations into that same band.
“We recently released the 12GHz NPRM [Notice of Proposed Rulemaking], which assesses the potential for terrestrial 5G use of the band,” the FCC wrote. “We decline to prejudge any aspects of the 12GHz rulemaking proceeding by either commenting on the ability of terrestrial and satellite operators to share spectrum in the frequency band more generally, or by denying the requested modification that would include authorization to use the 12.2-12.7GHz band.”
Indeed, the FCC said that SpaceX can proceed with its changes, but that it needs to be aware that 5G might also be allowed into the 12GHz band at some point in the future – and that it should plan accordingly. “SpaceX proceeds at its own risk,” the agency wrote.