SpaceX says 5G expansion would render Starlink “unusable” for most Americans

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SpaceX says if federal regulators allow 5G wireless networks to use a certain band of spectrum, it can lead to widespread outages for its Starlink internet customers. Spectrum refers to a range of radio frequencies, and federal regulators closely monitor which companies are allowed to use which frequencies so the signals don’t interfere with each other.

In a statement, SpaceX targeted Dish Network, which, although primarily known as a satellite television company, also has a cellular network. SpaceX claims Dish attempted to “trick” the Federal Communications Commission, which allocates spectrum use among telecommunications companies, and presented “flawed analysis” in an attempt to prove that allowing Dish to expand its network 5G would not impact Starlink users.

When contacted for comment, Dish said only that its “expert engineers are evaluating SpaceX’s claims in the filing.”

At the root of the stalemate is the 12 GHz band, a slice of radio frequencies that are primarily used for services like Starlink and its satellite internet competitor OneWeb.

In a fiery letter to the FCC, SpaceX Senior Director of Satellite Policy David Goldstein writes that “no reasonable engineer” could believe the studies put forward by Dish and his allies. It also urges the FCC to investigate whether Dish Network and RS Access, another wireless service provider, “filed intentionally misleading reports.”

SpaceX conducted its own analysis which it says “corrects some of the glaring assumptions” made in the Dish and RS Access studies.

“If Dish’s lobbying efforts are successful, our study shows that Starlink customers will experience harmful interference more than 77% of the time and total service outage 74% of the time, rendering Starlink unusable for most Americans,” a SpaceX said in a statement.

The 5Gfor12GHz Coalition — an industry stakeholder group that includes wireless service providers such as Dish — said its engineers are also 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 pointed to a study by an independent company that found that 99.85% of customers using Starlink and similar services “will not experience harmful interference from 5G”.

The FCC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, called the case “one of the most complex cases we have” during a March House hearing.

It’s “going to take a lot of technical work to make sure the airwaves can adapt to all these different uses without harmful interference,” she said. “I can assure you our top engineers are evaluating this right now.”

Battles for spectrum rights like this are nothing new. Satellite and telecom companies frequently fight each other over what they consider to be the most desirable spectrum bands. The current standoff over the 12GHz spectrum band has been going on for more than a year, and it’s a separate issue from 5G battles over C-band spectrum or a recent fear of aircraft interference.
Dish has previously criticized SpaceX, saying its plan to put Starlink terminals on moving vehicles is illegal and could interfere with Dish’s satellite TV customers.

Dish had about 8.2 million wireless subscribers in May and hopes to expand that business significantly. Public documents revealed earlier this year that SpaceX has more than 400,000 Starlink customers worldwide.

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