If the proposed addition of 12 GHz spectrum to 5G goes ahead, Starlink broadband terminals across America could be crippled, or so SpaceX complained.
The Elon Musk Affair made the request [PDF] this week in a filing with the FCC, which is considering allowing Dish to operate 5G service in the 12 GHz band (12.2-12.7 GHz). This frequency range is also used by Starlink and others to provide over-the-air satellite Internet connectivity.
SpaceX said its own internal study, conducted in Las Vegas, showed “harmful land mobile service interference to SpaceX’s Starlink terminals…more than 77% of the time, resulting in complete outages 74% of the time.” He also claimed that the interference would extend a minimum of 13 miles from base stations. In other words, if Dish manages to use these frequencies in the United States, it will render nearby Starlink terminals useless due to wireless interference, it has been claimed.
The rocket manufacturer criticized a study 2021 which was submitted in favor of Dish to the regulator by RS Access, a group focused on the transition from 12 GHz spectrum to 5G in the United States. RS Access has worked closely with Dish Networks, which is trying to expand into 5G service using the 12 GHz band.
“The key technical question before the [Federal Communications Commission] is whether 5G operations can co-exist with fixed-satellite service in non-geostationary satellite orbit (NGSO FSS) and direct broadcast satellite (DBS) licensees in the band,” RS Access concluded [PDF] in its report to the FCC.
This means that Starlink is the FSS NGSO; and Dish, which offers satellite TV, cell plans, etc., is the DBS. RS Access’ argument is that these two should be able to work side by side.
“The commission is not faced with a binary choice of doing nothing or sacrificing DBS and NGSO services in the 12 GHz band,” RS Access wrote. SpaceX’s filing has no immediate effect on the proposals, and a rollout debate is ongoing.
Starlink also noted that the RS Access report found that “only tens of thousands of Americans, which RS Access considers negligible,” would be affected by Dish’s expansion to 12 GHz. “Yet, as noted by the vast majority of comments on this submission, the analysis is riddled with errors and faulty assumptions,” he added.
The 5G for 12 GHz Coalition, which includes Dish, RS Access, VMWare and others, and is working with the FCC to complete the proposals, noted in a statement that “after 18 months and both a solid period of comments and responses,” SpaceX finally submitted its response to the plans.
“Our engineers and technical experts are reviewing the case thoroughly and remain committed to working in good faith with the FCC and stakeholders to ensure that the American public is able to reap the immense benefits of 5G services in this band,” the coalition said.
Interestingly enough, in April 2021, the FCC approved a request from SpaceX to modify its license to operate Starlink satellites, a change that could potentially cause interference in the 12 GHz range. Dish and RS Access both opposed the decision, which they said would jeopardize their 5G plans for spectrum.
In that decision, the FCC said it was not going to delay the licensing decision because of the 12 GHz procedure, and added a caveat: “We condition this grant, subject to any changes necessary to bring it into compliance with future actions in committee regulations, including but not limited to the 12 GHz procedure… Therefore, SpaceX proceeds at its own risk.
Starlink aims to bring internet to underserved places, and by many accounts, it has. At the same time, thousands of Starlink satellites orbiting Earth are so cluttering the night sky that AI models have been developed to help separate stars from view-blocking Starlink kit. ®