UScellular representatives recently met virtually with FCC staff to discuss the deployment of its C-band spectrum, including ongoing coordination efforts with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

UScellular emphasized the importance of being able to deploy its C-band spectrum in a timely manner “to help cure the digital divide in rural areas,” according to an ex parte filed with the FCC on Monday.

So far, Verizon and AT&T have been the main targets of efforts to curtail C-band emissions near airports, but reports surfaced last month that FAA Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen was seeking mandates that would apply to 19 other smaller telecom companies and spectrum holders.

During the FCC meeting, UScellular recommended that the FCC reject calls for modifications to its C-band and rules, “as changes at this stage will certainly cause deployment delays despite making progress with the FAA, harming Americans who need 5G services the most,” wrote UScellular VP of Government Affairs Rebecca Murphy Thompson in the filing.

Thompson, along with UScellular’s VP of Technology, Strategy and Architecture Narothum Saxena and network team members Jeff Baenke and Greg Agami, met with the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology and Wireless Telecommunications Bureau staff on November 17.

The UScellular representatives also requested that the FCC review and grant its pending Special Temporary Authority (STA) applications so that it can conduct tests and deploy the spectrum in a timely manner.

The FCC experimental licensing database shows UScellular has two STA requests pending with the FCC since July. One is to conduct C-band tests in the 3.92 – 3.98 GHz range in Belvidere, Illinois, and another is to conduct tests using the same frequency range at three different sites in Wisconsin Dells.

During UScellular’s third-quarter earnings call, UScellular President and CEO Laurent “LT” Therivel said the strategy with mid-band spectrum is to start rolling it out now and put radios on towers throughout 2023.

The spectrum doesn’t clear until the end of 2023, so the goal is to “flip the switch,” so to speak, toward the end of 2023 and early 2024. Like other carriers, UScellular is counting on the ability to deploy gear before they actually turn it on, making it an easier to launch service when the time comes. 

Already having a substantive amount of that mid-band spectrum deployed will help UScellular from an overall wireless perspective with improved speed and quality, he said.

UScellular CTO Mike Irizarry said during the earnings call that they’ve already started to design and order equipment to launch these markets, and similar to other capital-intensive projects, it will occur over multiple years.

The plan is to activate anywhere between 800 and 1,000 sites per year, strategically targeted where they can improve the customer experience, offload capacity and “synergize” that with the fixed wireless opportunity the company has identified, he said.

According to Thompson, UScellular will combine both C-band and 3.45 GHz radios in one unit.

“It’s important to be able to deploy the two spectrum bands at the same time. Not only will it provide a cost-savings benefit with one-touch deployment, but it will also help get our customers connected faster,” she said in a statement provided to Fierce.

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