This article has been updated with comment from T-Mobile USA.
The FCC is allowing T-Mobile USA to move forward with tests of an LTE service that would share spectrum with federal users in the 1755-1780 MHz band.
The commission’s approval today clears the way for the first tests gauging the impact of spectrum sharing in the band between commercial providers and incumbent government users such as the Defense Department.
"By granting the first authorization of testing in the 1755-1780 MHz band, the commission hopes to facilitate commercial mobile broadband services in that band," FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a statement.
If successful, sharing government airwaves could become another solution to the industry’s spectrum shortage.
Spectrum sharing between the public and private sectors is "a new tool that joins clearing and reallocation as part of an ‘all-of-the-above’ strategy to address our nation’s spectrum challenges," Genachowski said.
T-Mobile filed a request in May for special temporary authority to test LTE service in the spectrum.
"The testing we propose is part of an industry-wide effort to build critical understanding of operations in this band, and we will be working with other carriers and equipment manufacturers moving ahead," Tom Surgrue, T-Mobile senior vice president of government affairs, said in a statement. "There remains a critical need for additional bandwidth for commercial services, and our ability to test in this band represents an important milestone in bringing new spectrum resources to market."
Congress and the FCC have identified the band for reallocation from the government to commercial users, but the logistical difficulties of moving federal users off the band has made it necessary for the wireless industry to explore spectrum sharing as an alternative.
Proposals to share spectrum with the government have been met with some wariness by the wireless industry, which prefers spectrum that has been completely cleared of incumbent users.
AT&T said last month it was "concerned" about a report from an advisory council to the president that advocated "shared use superhighways" for federal spectrum, instead of reallocating the licenses to the wireless industry.
"The report fails to recognize the benefits of exclusive use licenses, which are well known," AT&T regulatory affairs executive Joan Marsh said.
The 1755-1780 MHz band targeted by T-Mobile for testing were the focus of a bill released in April by two House lawmakers. The proposal gave federal agencies on the band five years to relocate to another block of spectrum, so that the FCC could pair the 1755-1780 and 2155-2180 MHz spectrum blocks and put them up for auction.
The bill never made it past committee.