I have been following the broadband repack for some time. I thought I would share what I learned and how I found teams to help.
First off, what is it? It is where the FCC held 2 auctions. Yes, 2 auctions so that they could get the spectrum back from the television broadcasters. You see, one auction was to regain the spectrum from the broadcaster and the other was to unload the spectrum to the carriers. All of this in the 600MHz band.
- The broadcasters were in a reverse auction where they could request money from the FCC and get paid based on their market for their spectrum. They would also get new spectrum. So, they get paid to unload their spectrum.
- Then another auction for the carriers to buy the spectrum in the 600MHz band. This gives them the opportunity to gain more spectrum and grow for a few billion dollars. The big winner in this auction was T-Mobile, who intends to fill their holes across the US. They spent quite a bit. However, AT&T bought very little, and Verizon showed little interest. T-Mobile did very well. Comcast snatched up some spectrum too, among many others.
Back to the broadcasters. Now they must move to the new spectrum which involves much work. They need to take down what they have and build a new transmitter. They have to replace their antenna and line. It is a lot of work. They need to do all of this before the deadline hits.
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Some questions get answered here like:
- What is the repack?
- What is involved in the repack?
- When does it have to be done?
- Who pays for the hardware and services?
- Will the FCC keep track of all of this?
- What is spectrum reallocation?
- Who can help you do this?
What is the repack? What is spectrum repacking in the USA? It is the FCC reallocating spectrum from the broadcasters to the telecom companies. They did this through the spectrum auction in 2016. It took years to plan and then execute and now it will take years to complete the moving of equipment.
- Telecom companies are requesting a lot more spectrum to increase wireless broadband in the USE.
- The FCC knows that most broadcasters rely more and more on cable and dish to deliver content.
- So, they decided to make an offer to the broadcaster where they could sell their spectrum to the telecom companies through an auction controlled by the FCC.
- The FCC had a reverse auction to get the spectrum from the broadcasters.
- Then the FCC had a forward auction to hand out the spectrum to wireless carriers, like T-Mobile.
- The Auction was completed in 2016 for both sides, not the repacking begins.
- Repacking means that the broadcasters replace their transmitters, line, and antennas to put their stations in a new band. All new equipment and the services to go with it funded by the FCC and the money they got from the auction. The FCC has a budget that they are working with, thanks to the carriers.
While carriers like T-Mobile are excited to get the new spectrum so we all can use it to enjoy broadband and build the infrastructure of wireless in the USA, it is not an easy thing to do.
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What is involved in a repack? Broadcasters have a tremendous amount of work to move ahead. They must make many changes on each of their towers over the next 4 years. They have until July 13th of 2021 to complete all the work. Sounds easy, right, that is over 4 years from the time I am writing this.
- Build up the new transmitter in the new band.
- Install the new line and antennas.
- Move over to the new spectrum and bring the new equipment live.
- Take down the old line and antenna.
- Deconstruct the old transmitter.
It is a lot of work to have this completed in an industry that has insufficient resources. Someone should manage all of this, do the tower work, provide the antennas, change out the transmitters. If you think this is something that can be done quickly, then you are in telecom and have no idea what the broadcasters deal with or what their system looks like. They have a large antenna that could be 2,000 feet high, that is right, 2K, not 200. It weighs hundreds of pounds, not pounds. The line is a copper coax that is very heavy, not fiber. It is work, and it needs to be managed.
The broadcasters have a tremendous amount of work to get done. They will completely de-install their equipment from their towers. This is a massive undertaking which will take a lot of time and planning before the real work gets done. It will take a team of people. The tower workers will be so busy over the next 3 years trying to complete all the removals and installing the new equipment. The broadcasters will be off the air along with anyone else who may be at the same level as them.
Let’s look at challenges ahead:
- Old antennas to be removed could weigh up to 20,000lbs, that is right, 20 thousand!
- Antennas are over 700 feet or higher, up to 2,000 feet, that is high, and you might have to remove the same thing that weighs thousands of pounds!
- The coax is usually copper sections that weigh over 50lbs per section. Heavy, hundreds of feet running up to the top. Grounded at sections and mounted solidly to the tower. WOW!
- The transmitter is big, and it must be removed.
- The new equipment could be the same size as the old, it may have to be put in before the old being removed, or a temporary setup needs installed.
- If a temporary setup is installed, then the permanent solution will have to be installed at some point.
- This is high power stuff, which means it takes more engineering and testing to make sure there are no problems. At high power you have arcing, high voltage, and many safety issues.
- There is a deadline, so it is a pressure job.
- Resources, like tower crews, will be maxed out and super busy, so it is going to be hard to get what you need when you need it.
- When rushed, you overlook stuff, it happens. Mistakes happen. Bad weather happens. Schedules get impacted.
- If you do not apply with the FCC, form 2100, schedule 399, properly, you may not get reimbursed so you may spend more money than you have too.
- It may be too late when you ask for help! Then you are already behind, (and screwed!). Don’t wait!
Then they must remove the old transmitter from the site after they installed the new one.
You see, they will have to have all the new equipment installed and ready to turn up, just like they did when they converted to digital several years ago. They will need to have the new system in or something temporary in and ready to go live. This means a full installation and test before turning down the old station.
- July 12th was the deadline your estimated construction costs for equipment and services to the FCC, form 2100 schedule 399. Did you do this?
For a great video on what the broadcasters must do, look at https://youtu.be/l03Hff97hqE to see what is going on. NAB did a great job of summing this up. For anyone in the business, they get it because they know the work that must be done and how dangerous it is and that it takes a lot of planning and project management. It takes professionals to do this job. It takes people that can work with a crane or a GIN pole. It takes broadcast engineers to commission TV stations for over the air broadcast.
Another great resource is https://repackready.com/spectrum-repack-news/ if you want to get more up to date news.
Who pays for the hardware and services? The FCC, of course, this is an amazing time when the money will come from the FCC with the reserves they built from the auction. The broadcasters would get the money if they requested it using Form 2100 – Schedule 399. This was the important part because they ask to get it. Otherwise, they will pay for it. I hope they all asked for all the money, project management, hardware, services, and anything else they could add in there. This is not the time to go cheap!
Will the FCC keep track of all of this? Yes, of course, they will not only take the request but also, they need receipts and documentation to monitor the progress and the expenses associated with this. Make sure you keep good records of everything. In fact, they said that so far they expect it to cost $2.1B based on what they know, the article found here, http://www.tvtechnology.com/news/0002/broadcasters-cable-ops-turn-in-21-billion-for-reimbursement/281416.
What is spectrum reallocation? The short answer is that the carriers get the spectrum that the broadcasters were in and the broadcasters will move to new spectrum allocated by the FCC for them to broadcast digitally. Learn more from the FCC here, https://www.fcc.gov/document/fcc-announces-results-worlds-first-broadcast-incentive-auction-0 to see how it is allocated.
Who can help you do this? Of course, I have someone who can help. Specifically, a friend of mine works at QCOM. I am working with my friends at QCommunications, LLC, (QCOM), about how to manage this. Just let them know Wade sent you!
They said it takes much time to get it all done and it will take endless babysitting to make sure all the steps are complete. This will take good project management by seasoned broadcast engineers.
QCOM told me that they have the PM support to oversee and assist with the critical steps. However, whether you want their help or not, it is a good idea to look over the steps involved. Most broadcast engineers probably are already dealing with this. The steps include:
- Form 2100– Schedule 399 preparation
- System Audit
- System transition plan, engineering and cost analysis
- Project Management
- Decommissioning and Legacy equipment disposal
- Post install system testing
- Post Auction Transition Planning
- Project management
- RF Engineering and Field services
- New System Installation, Integration, and Testing
- Engineering analysis and evaluation of the cost to relocate to an alternative channel
- Tower Mapping, Modifications Minor, Major and Serious as well as Installation
- HVAC services
- Interim Solutions, Engineer, Design, PM, and Installation
- Impact Study
- Studio and Production Control transition
- Coordinating all the services and crews and hardware deliveries.
It is a lot of work. However, this time the FCC will reimburse the broadcasters for their work and equipment. If they file the forms in time, the forms and the request should be made before getting paid. So, they need to make sure they account for everything. They will need to use their planning skills to account for everything. They also need to add some money in there for the problems they are not thinking of yet. That is right! They should consider the worst-case scenario to make sure that they are prepared to cover it. Don’t be cheap! You only get reimbursed if you have the receipts, but if you do not make the request, then you get nothing. Plan well, get the tower modifications if they are needed. Get the PM for the extra help. Hire extra engineers to execute quickly and properly. Plan for the extras, so you get reimbursed properly Don’t short change yourselves or losing money. The FCC forces you to go digital and they did not give you any money for that, but now you have an opportunity to get all of this done from the money from the auction. How great is that? It is awesome!
How is the spectrum be reallocated? It’s being bought from the broadcasters and distributed to the telecom companies for wireless LTE broadband as part of the 5G roll out. That’s how the spectrum is being allocated, through the auction and the money is going from the telecom companies to the FCC, who will take some, but they are going to make sure that the broadcasters get their share and get some of the services and hardware paid for.
This is a lot of work and something that your team may or may not want to do alone. If you need help, just ask. Feel free to let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can reach out to QCOM at https://www.qcom1.com/contact-us/ to get more information, just tell them Wade sent you there!
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