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By Scott Sleek
In a step that could free up more airwaves for wireless broadband service, the Federal Communications Commission has approved DISH's plans to use spectrum it acquired earlier this year for mobile broadband service.
Under the order approved Dec. 11 by all five commissioners, DISH is required to limit operations in a portion of its spectrum to avoid interfering with neighboring bands. The satellite TV company will also be required to build out at least 70 percent of its new network within six years.
DISH controls 40 MHz of spectrum, which it plans to split into uplink and downlink bands. The FCC included the guard band requirement to prevent interference with government-owned frequencies known as the H block.
Sprint Nextel, which had proposed the guard band concept, is interested in bidding on the H block if it is auctioned off next year as expected.
DISH had originally objected to the FCC's consideration of a guard band, arguing that they would render about 25 percent of its network unusable. But the company last week changed its stance and said the restrictions were acceptable as long as it could use the rest of its uplink spectrum to the fullest extent possible.
“The commission has taken an important step toward facilitating wireless competition and innovation,” DISH General Counsel Jeff Blum said in an e-mailed statement following the commission's vote. “Following a more thorough review of the order and its technical details, DISH will consider its strategic options and the optimal approach to put this spectrum to use for the benefit of consumers.”
DISH has built up its spectrum holdings to decrease its reliance on the satellite-TV business, which is losing subscribers. The company's chairman and co-founder, Charlie Ergen, said in October that he had given up ambitions of building his own wireless network and was now focused on forging a partnership with another company in the industry.
Bloomberg News has reported that Sprint has approached DISH in recent months about a potential partnership that would allow the satellite-TV company to offer mobile-phone service over Sprint's network, with Sprint getting access to DISH's mobile airwaves.
In an e-mailed statement late Dec. 11, Sprint called the commission's move “a balanced and equitable decision.”
“By allocating this spectrum for commercial broadband use, the Commission is helping to bring more wireless broadband directly to consumers,” Larry Krevor, Sprint's vice president for government affairs, said in the statement. “This will promote economic growth, investment, innovation and increase the economic competitiveness of the U.S.”
The FCC's vote is part of an attempt to accommodate soaring demand for mobile Internet service as consumers turn to smartphones and tablet computers.
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