2020 Q1-2 Regulatory Updates

Human Exposure to RF Electromagnetic Fields – ET Docket No. 13-84

Previously fixed microwave services have been presumed to normally comply with exposure limits and thus to be exempt from routine evaluation.  In the Second Report and Order released December 4, 2019 the FCC removed the blanket exemption for fixed microwave and introduced instead formulas that may be used to qualify for exemption.   While the exposure limits themselves are unchanged and apply as always, microwave users will now be required to include with license applications a statement confirming compliance with the limits.  This compliance is based on qualifying for exemption or evaluating the human exposure to RF radiation; however, analysis showing the basis for compliance (exemption or evaluation) need not be filed unless requested by the FCC.  These rules were to take effect on June 1, 2020 but the FCC has delayed them indefinitely due to required OMB approval under the Paperwork Reduction Act.  A new effective date will be announced in the Federal Register.


The FCC released a Public Notice March 2, 2020 with rules for an auction of priority access licenses (PALs) in the 3.55-3.65 Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) band. 

Auction 105 is scheduled to begin July 23, 2020 (AU Docket No. 19-244).


Promoting Innovation in the 5.9 GHz Band – ET Docket No. 19-138

In an NPRM released December 17, 2019 the FCC proposed reallocating the 5850-5895 MHz segment to unlicensed operation, an extension of the existing unlicensed band below 5850 MHz.  The FCC is considering the docket record including comments received March 6, 2020 and reply comments received April 27, 2020.  In the spring, some WISPs requested and were granted temporary authorization to use the 5850-5895 MHz band for COVID-19 response.


Expanding Flexible Use of the C-Band – GN Docket No. 18-122

In an Order released March 3, 2020 the FCC decided to transition the 3.7-3.98 GHz band to flexible use under Part 27, leaving the 4.0-4.2 GHz band for C-band satellite services.  The transition is to occur by December 5, 2025, with possible accelerated Phase I and Phase II deadlines of December 5, 2021, and December 5, 2023, respectively.  Phase I is clearing 3.7-3.8 GHz (100 MHz) while Phase II is clearing the full 3.7-3.98 GHz (280 MHz).  For the accelerated transition space station operators would agree to meet the earlier deadlines in exchange for financial incentives.  Flexible use licenses are to protect incumbent earth stations to PFD = -124 dBW/m^2/MHz for OOBE in the remaining satellite segment (e.g. 4.0-4.2 GHz, in-band to the earth station) and to PFD = -16 dBW/m^2/MHz in 3.7-3.98 GHz to prevent blocking.  Remaining fixed microwave licenses are to sunset on December 5, 2023.  Users are to self-relocate those systems out of the C-band with reasonable costs being eligible for reimbursement.  At the August meeting, the FCC is to consider rules to assign flexible use licenses in the 3.7-3.98 GHz band in an auction to begin December 8, 2020 (AU Docket No. 20-25).


Unlicensed Use of the 6 GHz Band – ET Docket No. 18-295 

Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking released April 24, 2020.  The FCC authorized unlicensed low power indoor operation in the entire 5.925-7.125 GHz band at 5 dBm/MHz EIRP.  The FCC will also authorize standard power (including outdoor) operation in the UNII-5 (5.925-6.425 GHz) and UNII-7 (6.525-6.875 GHz) bands under control of a system of Automated Frequency Coordination (AFC) to protect fixed microwave services.  Standard power is up to 36 dBm EIRP and power density 23 dBm/MHz EIRP.  The FCC described AFC system requirements and will select and approve AFC operators.  Industry groups are also working on further defining the AFC functionality.  In the FNPRM the FCC is considering very low power operation (not limited to indoors), an increase of power density for low power indoor systems, mobile standard power access points, and higher EIRP for point-to-point use.


Facilitating Deployment of Satellite Earth Stations in Motion (ESIMs) – IB Docket No. 17-95/IB Docket No. 18-315

Released May 14, 2020.  In a Second Report and Order in IB Docket No. 17-95 the FCC authorized ESIM communications with GSO satellites in additional frequency bands.  FWCC successfully argued the rules should be clear that ESIMs receiving in the 11 GHz and 18 GHz bands are not entitled to protection from the terrestrial microwave fixed service.  This ESIM status is reflected in the final rules.  In a Report and Order in IB Docket No. 18-315 the FCC also authorized ESIM communications with NGSO satellites in additional frequency bands, with use of the 11 GHz and 18 GHz bands on a non-protected basis with respect to terrestrial microwave.  For ESIM operations in the Ka band, as an interim solution the FCC left a 50 MHz guard band 28.35-28.4 GHz to protect 27.5-28.35 GHz UMFUS from OOBE of ESIM uplinks.  In a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking the FCC is considering the earth station OOBE requirements and the need for and width of any guard band between UMFUS and NGSO ESIMs.


Modernizing and Expanding Access to the 70/80/90 GHz Bands – WT Docket No. 20-133

Modernizing and Expanding Access to the 70/80/90 GHz Bands – WT Docket No. 20-133:  In a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking released June 10, 2020 the FCC proposes changes to the antenna rules and link registration processes, and to allow communications to ships and aircraft.  The current antenna rules require a minimum antenna size of 1 ft. diameter and the proposed changes would allow antennas of approximately 6 in. diameter to improve opportunities to use E-band links for wireless backhaul.  The NPRM also considers link certification requirements to keep the registration database current, possible allowance of minor changes while keeping first-in-time status, and whether the FCC should adopt channel plan(s).  Ship and aircraft communications would be authorized as mobile services and new methods would be needed to study interference between these systems and with fixed links.  New structures would be needed to register these systems in the 3rd party databases.  Comments are due August 5 and reply comments are due September 4.