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The Federal Communications Commission is continuing its quest to open up as much spectrum as possible for mobile broadband with a new Notice of Inquiry examining the 900 MHz band.

With the NOI, the FCC is looking for more information on three potential new approaches to the band. Those include rearranging the band to make room for a broadband service channel, preserving the existing band configuration but adding more operational flexibility, or sticking with the current eligibility and licensing scheme. The 900 MHz band was designated in 1986 for narrowband private land mobile radio (PLMR) communications by Business/Industrial/Land Transportation (B/ILT) licensees and Specialized Mobile Radio (SMR) providers.

On the broadband front, the Commission is seeking comment on whether it should designate some portion of the 900 MHz band for broadband operations, as well as input on the benefits and costs of such a shift. The FCC also wants commenters to weigh in on the possibility of fully reconfiguring the band to create a 5/5 MHz broadband channel, including how a dynamically shared band could efficiently assign channels for both narrowband and broadband uses.

“If the Commission were to create a narrowband and a broadband segment, what would be the most suitable bandwidth to create a broadband service in the 900 MHz band, taking into account the evolution of wireless technical standards such as Long Term Evolution (LTE)?” the NOI asks. “What would be the minimum viable size for a broadband service? For example, would 3 x 3 megahertz paired blocks be sufficient to create a commercially viable broadband service while ensuring sufficient spectrum for traditional narrowband operations in the band?”

But the FCC also has the Internet of Things in mind. In its questions related to keeping the existing configuration but adding more flexibility, the Commission wants to know whether there are “low-bandwidth Internet-of-Things (IoT) applications that might benefit from the propagation characteristics of the 900 MHz band but which do not squarely fit within the B/ILT eligibility requirements? What is the demand for such services and can it be met more efficiently in other bands?”

The move to examine the 900 MHz band comes just after the Commission opened a separate NOI earlier this month looking into the flexible use of mid-range spectrum bands from 3.7-4.2 GHz, 5.925-6.425 GHz, and 6.425-7.125 GHz for next generation services. That proceeding also asks commenters to flag other bands between 3.7 GHz and 24 GHz that might be good candidates for flexible use, and asks for feedback on long-term strategies to boost efficiency and flexible use opportunities while protecting existing non-federal services.

Comments in the 900 MHz proceeding are due by Sept. 18, with a comment reply deadline of Oct. 18.

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