DirecTV says 5G plan would degrade satellite TV reception

TAMPA, Fla. — DirecTV said July 18 its satellite TV customers face major disruption if broadcast rival Dish Network gets to deploy 5G wireless services in the 12 GHz spectrum band.

Mobile operations in the band “would cause extensive harmful interference” to millions of DirecTV receivers across the United States, the company told the Federal Communications Commission in a letter.

According to a study DirecTV commissioned from satellite consulting firm Savid, interference levels would exceed limits currently in place in the U.S. to protect Direct Broadcast Satellite (DBS) systems by a factor of 100 to 100,000. 

This would impact areas “extending well beyond the intended coverage area of the mobile base stations,” wrote Stacy Fuller, DirecTV’s senior vice president of external affairs.

Fuller said the study is based on conservative assumptions that significantly understate interference levels, because neither the FCC nor the band’s mobile proponents have set out rules for the proposed two-way network.

Dish and RS Access, a spectrum holding company, have licenses in the band that they want to upgrade for terrestrial 5G services.

Both Dish and DirecTV are already using frequencies in the band to provide linear TV programming.

OneWeb and SpaceX also use 12 GHz frequencies to connect their competing broadband satellite constellations in non-geostationary orbit (NGSO) to user terminals. OneWeb and SpaceX recently commissioned studies showing the proposed 5G services would significantly disrupt their networks.

Fuller said DirecTV’s broadcast services are even more vulnerable to disruption from interference because DBS is a one-way service.

“Unlike broadband systems, which can replace lost [data] packets through two-way communications, DBS packets lost to interference result in frozen video screens—and canceled subscriptions,” she added.

“Accordingly, the Commission should terminate this proceeding and give incumbent satellite operators in the band the certainty they need to continue to invest in developing and delivering advanced services for American consumers.”

Both DirecTV and Dish have been losing customers in a declining satellite pay-TV market that has been losing out to online streaming alternatives.

DirecTV is majority owned by U.S. telecoms giant AT&T, and has been expanding its streaming services in response to changing viewer habits. 

Alongside expanding its own streaming capabilities, Dish has been developing a terrestrial mobile network that has been using other spectrum bands for 5G.

Back and forth studies

Dish, RS Access and other members of the 5G for 12 GHz Coalition say mobile services can coexist with other users of the band.

Studies for RS Access by RKF Engineering Solutions, an engineering firm, have focused on the potential for interfering with NGSO operators.

SpaceX said analysis it submitted to the FCC June 21 addresses inaccuracies and incorrect assumptions that were made in earlier RFK interference studies. 

The proposed network would cause Starlink users to experience harmful interference more than 77% of the time, SpaceX warned.

OneWeb followed with its own study July 12, which said it would leave significant areas of the United States unusable by the otherwise ubiquitous NGSO terminals.

However, according to analysis from RFK that uses Starlink as a model, 5G deployments will have no effect on at least 99.85% of NGSO operations in the 12 GHz band. 

RS Access filed another RFK analysis to the FCC July 15 to identify factors driving the disparity between it and SpaceX’s study.

The disparities stem from issues that include the “[e]xceptionally narrow geographic scope” of SpaceX’s study, RS Access CEO Noah Campbell said, unsupportable assumptions about how Starlink terminals would be distributed and how 5G base stations would be deployed.

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