PCS Partners seeks 3GPP LTE use for thus-far-unused – and soon-to-be-expired – licenses.

Nearly two years ago, we reported that the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau put Multilateration Location Monitoring Service (M-LMS) licensees in the hot seat: build out soon, or lose your licenses. “Soon” is almost upon us – the Bureau’s 2014 Order requires that all M-LMS licensees complete (a) their mid-term construction by this coming September and (b) their final construction in September 2018.

Readers may recall that M-LMS is essentially a failed service. Originally intended to provide for the location tracking of vehicles in the 900 MHz band, the technology was overtaken by accurate, inexpensive GPS equipment. Even though licenses were auctioned way back in 1999 and 2001, no M-LMS license has been put into use for the service as contemplated by the Commission. Unlicensed users on the same 900 MHz frequencies have consistently opposed M-LMS deployment. (Because of the potential for interference to unlicensed devices operating on or near M-LMS frequencies, M-LMS licensees must conduct field tests to demonstrate that their systems do not cause unacceptable levels of interference to such devices.) After a long and tortured history of repeated buildout extension requests, and one rulemaking that was closed without action, the Commission determined in 2014 to push the licensees to do something or give the licenses up.

Recognizing the likelihood of a “use it or lose it” ultimatum, licensees have scrambled to find constructive (pun intended) new uses of their spectrum holdings. The holder of the largest number of licenses, Progeny/NextNav, won a hard-fought waiver request to use their licenses for E911 location accuracy. However, Progeny/NextNav still is not providing any full-scale commercial service; it is awaiting the Commission’s establishment of location accuracy requirements, which will take several more years.

Now another licensee, PCS Partners (PCSP), has filed a similar waiver request, seeking both to use its licenses for 3GPP LTE machine-to-machine communications, and to extend its buildout requirements to 2020 and 2022. PCSP relies upon many of the same arguments as Progeny – that there is no LMS equipment available and that its proposed use will be more spectrally efficient than if it were to provide M-LMS services. What remains to be seen is not only whether the Commission will buy into PCSP’s planned use of its licenses, but also whether it will be willing to grant the considerable additional extension of time to build out a network.

The Commission is seeking comments on the PCSP waiver request, which are due on May 24, 2016 with reply comments due on June 6. Interested parties can submit comment and replies through the FCC’s ECFS online filing system; refer to Proceeding No. 16-149.