Small wireless operators whose LTE services can't roam onto the networks of national providers because of interoperability problems could see some progress on the issue at the FCC's next open meeting.
The lack of interoperability between different blocks of the 700 MHz band has been a hindrance to rural mobile broadband deployment, since many regional carriers use different blocks of the band for LTE than AT&T and Verizon Wireless.
This makes it harder for regional operators to compete, since they can't offer LTE roaming on the networks of their larger competitors.
The FCC will take up the subject at its March 21 open meeting, when it plans to consider a proposal to mitigate possible interference to services running in the lower 700 MHz B block and C block if the lower portion of the band were made interoperable. It will also examine how to proceed if it finds that interoperability doesn't pose significant problems with interference.
The Rural Cellular Association has long lobbied the FCC on the need for interoperability in the 700 MHz band. Many of the group's members hold 700 MHz spectrum that doesn't work with AT&T and Verizon Wireless' holdings.
"Interoperability is one of the most important issues for competitive carriers, as an interoperability requirement will finally allow competitive carriers to build out their 4G LTE mobile networks and compete with the ever-growing duopoly of AT&T and Verizon Wireless," RCA President and CEO Steve Berry said in a statement.
AT&T has expressed concerns that its LTE service could be degraded if it was forced to make its network interoperable with other 700 MHz bands.
High-power television broadcasts permitted in Channel 51 and the strength of transmissions in the 700 MHz lower E block could affect LTE services running in the adjacent A block.
Operators who have pushed for interoperability rules say that the interference issues are minor and can be addressed with filters.
The technical limitations of the 700 MHz band aren't the only issue on the FCC's meeting agenda. The agency also plans to take up a proposal that will allow spectrum in the 2 GHz band currently allocated only for satellite services to be used for land-based networks.
Dish Network has been a proponent of the flexible licensing rules, and said in a statement it "looks forward to working with the FCC" on the regulations. The company is pushing the agency to let it use satellite spectrum acquired from bankrupt communications companies TerreStar and DBSD for a land-based LTE-Advanced network.
Other items scheduled for a vote at the upcoming meeting include the reallocation of federal spectrum for commercial use, and order on low-power radio service and a review of program access rules for television companies.