Radio amateurs in the USA to lose the 3.4 GHz microwave band

Radio amateurs in the USA to lose the 3.4 GHz microwave band

In a ruling issued on the 2nd of October 2020, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) the USA announced that the amateur radio service is going to lose access to the 3.4 GHz microwave band. It is proposed that the spectrum from 3.3 to 3.55 GHz be cleared for 5G networks.

Up to now, radio amateurs in the US had a secondary allocation from 3.3 to 3.5 GHz based on a non-interference basis to primary users. The FCC has now proposed clearing 3.4 to 3.5 GHz in the short term and 3.3 to 3.4 GHz at a later date.

Excerpt from the ruling regarding the amateur allocation…

C. Sunset of Secondary Amateur Allocation

33. We adopt our proposal from the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to remove the amateur
allocation from the 3.3-3.5 GHz band. As we did with radiolocation operations, we adopt changes to our rules today that provide for the sunset of the secondary amateur allocation in the band, but allow continued use of the band for amateur operations, pending resolution of the issues raised in the Further Notice. Secondary non-federal amateur licensees operating in this band as of the effective date of this Report and Order may continue while the Commission finalizes plans to reallocate spectrum in the 3.45- 3.55 GHz band. Authorizations will sunset on a date consistent with the first possible grant of flexible use authorizations to new users in that portion of the band—for example, 90 days after the close of the auction if we adopt a licensing scheme that will result in an auction to assign licenses.77 We revise the Table of Allocations accordingly.78

34. Clearing all secondary operations, including amateur operations, from this spectrum will allow us to maximize the band for potential flexible use operations in the future. Further, to prevent adjacent-channel issues and to preserve the possibility of additional clearing for flexible use licensing below 3.45 GHz, we find that sunsetting the secondary amateur allocation from the entire 3.3-3.5 GHz portion of the band is in the public interest.
35. Unlike the case of radiolocation operations in the 3.3-3.55 GHz band, amateur stations in this band are licensed on a shared basis. However, only amateur service operators with privileges for transmitting in this band based on their license class may operate stations on this spectrum.79 The class of a given operator’s license determines on which of the many amateur frequencies it may operate, and amateurs with access to the 3.3-3.5 GHz band also have access to a large number of other bands.80 These include bands with similar characteristics and operations such as the 2.39-2.45 GHz and 5.65-5.925 GHz bands, as well as dozens of others.81 Due to the unique nature of the licensing of the amateur service, we do not provide for the relocation of these operations in the same way as we do for radiolocation operations. Instead, we will allow amateur operators to choose for themselves whether to continue these operations in the alternate spectrum and which available spectrum to use. 
E. Continued Operation of Amateur Stations in Part of the 3.3-3.45 GHz Band 
67. In the accompanying Report and Order, we sunset the allocation for amateur operations in the 3-3.3.5 GHz band to allow for full commercial use of the spectrum to be made available through flexible use licenses. We authorize continued operations for amateur license holders only until the date consistent with the first possible grant of flexible use authorizations to new users in the band, consistent with the timeline for the relocation of secondary radiolocation services.
68. We note, however, that certain commenters caution against the clearing the spectrum of amateur operations earlier than necessary to accommodate new wireless broadband operations.135 When considering the timeline for the relocation of non-federal radiolocation operations, the Commission considered that there are a small number of these licensees operating in the band, no commenters objected to the relocation, and that commenters agreed that existing equipment can be upgraded to support relocated operations, leading to reduced expense and complexity. 136 Many amateur licensees, by contrast, argue that requiring them to cease operations earlier than necessary would be “a waste of valuable spectrum resources,”137 and other commenters echo this concern.138 Many also argue that, since the focus of future flexible use licensing is above 3.45 GHz, the Commission at a minimum should allow amateur operators to continue below 3.45 GHz for the foreseeable future. In light of these concerns, and of the large number of amateur licensees currently operating in the band, we seek comment on sunsetting amateur use in the band in two separate phases.
69. We propose to sunset amateur operations in the 3.4-3.5 GHz band, pursuant to the accompanying Report and Order, but to allow amateur operations in the remainder of the band (i.e., 3.3-3.4 GHz) to continue pending further decisions about the future of this portion of the spectrum. Specifically, we propose that amateur use in the upper portion of the 3.3-3.55 GHz band would sunset according to the procedures set out in the accompanying Report and Order (on a date consistent with the first possible grant of flexible use authorizations to new users in that portion of the band), while amateur use of the lower portion of the band would continue until a future date to be set later in this proceeding. If we adopt this approach, we stress that amateur operations in that lower portion of the band would remain on a secondary basis, and the allocation would continue to be subject to sunset at any time.139
70. Would this approach of bifurcating the amateur allocation and sunsetting the two portions on different dates allow amateur operations to continue during the pendency of decisions about the use of the band below 3.4 GHz, while still providing future flexible use licensees sufficient protection from harmful interference? What are the costs and benefits of this approach and of any alternatives? If we were to adopt this approach, at what frequency should we split the band? Given the possibility that cross-service adjacent channel interference could result if we allow amateur operations to continue immediately adjacent to 3.45 GHz, we propose to set the upper boundary of this lower portion of the allocation at 3.4 GHz in order to create a 50 megahertz guard band and seek comment on that proposal. Are there alternatives to this approach that would allow increased amateur use while also providing full protection to flexible use licensees? 
71. Finally, we seek comment on whether any modifications pursuant to our Section 316 authority are necessary to accomplish our proposed changes to the amateur allocation. We note the unique nature of amateur licensing relative to other Commission licensees, and that we are not selecting new frequencies for amateur operations because there are many alternate bands available for amateurs to choose from.140

In a separate auction for some spectrum at 3.6 GHz recently, some $4.5 Billion was raised so the spectrum around 3.4 GHz may well raise a similar amount.

The ARRL and AMSAT had made a case for continued use of the shared amateur allocation but the FCC has now rejected this.

The big losers in all this are probably AMSAT and the amateur radio satellite community. The 3.4 GHz (9cm) band had possibilities for uplinks and downlinks for geostationary satellites or lunar probes. With the US losing the band, it will probably curtail such possibilities.

The loss of an amateur band in the low GHz region also represents the thin end of the wedge. With the demand for spectrum by commercial and other interests, many of the amateur bands worldwide are potentially under threat.

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