The Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) recently adopted new rules governing the Wireless Communications Service (“WCS”) in the 2.3 GHz band. The new rules largely follow those proposed by AT&T and Sirius XM earlier this year and are designed to both encourage the development of new broadband services and mitigate the potential for harmful interference to Satellite Digital Audio Radio Service (“SDARS”) operations in the adjacent portion of the 2.3 GHz band.

The SDARS spectrum, licensed to Sirius XM, occupies the 2320-2345 MHz portion of the 2.3 GHz band. The 2.3 GHz WCS spectrum is located on either side of the SDARS spectrum at 2305-2320 MHz and 2345-2360 MHz, respectively. AT&T is the largest WCS licensee and has been substantially increasing its WCS spectrum holdings in recent months, as evidenced by its August 2012 agreement to acquire NextWave Wireless Inc. In a joint submission filed with the FCC earlier this year, AT&T and Sirius XM recommended changes to the WCS rules that they argued would lessen the technical limitations and regulatory uncertainty that have surrounded the spectrum since the FCC first established SDARS in 1997.

On October 17, 2012, the FCC adopted new WCS rules that largely follow those suggested by AT&T and Sirius XM in their joint proposal. Among other things, the new rules prohibit WCS mobile and portable transmitters from operating in all portions of WCS Blocks C and D—the 5-MHz WCS blocks immediately adjacent to the SDARS spectrum on either side. The prohibition effectively creates a guard band that will mitigate the potential for harmful interference to SDARS operations. The FCC also adopted a number of additional rules dealing with out-of-band emissions limits, duty cycle limits, information sharing requirements, coordination obligations, performance requirements, and other technical issues.