AT&T Merger: What Spectrum?

According to the Wall Street Journal, some industry executives and former FCC officials are skeptical that the AT&T/T-Mobile merger will help any capacity crunch. If AT&T needs spectrum, they could add capacity to current cell towers they already have or purchase spectrum elsewhere.

“Putting the two networks together does not create spectrum,” said Gerald R. Faulhaber, a former chief economist of the Federal Communications Commission, who has worked as a consultant for AT&T and its rivals.

John Stankey, president of AT&T’s business unit and the company’s former operations chief, says the combined network, would be 30% more dense in New York, and allow T-Mobile customers to receive better service inside buildings and elevators. But T-Mobile doesn’t have any 700 MHz, so how that would help is not very clear.

Calculating the total spectrum owned by wireless companies is not straightforward. Carriers might own 10 MHz, 20MHz for even 30MHz in big cities, but nothing in smaller communities. Still, Mary Meeker’s Power Point charts (above), compiled before AT&T bought another 12 MHz of 700 MHz from from Qualcomm, has been widely quoted.


AT&T is sitting on top of more than $10B in 700 MHz spectrum and nearly $2B in unused AWS spectrum. T-Mobile has no 700MHz spectrum. AT&T says 1 + 1 = 3.

It could be argued that if AT&T now downgrades their AWS spectrum to make it compatible with T-Mobile’s HSPA+ — it will just create a bigger bottleneck.

Monica Paolini argues that traffic caps fail to target traffic levels at peak hours, and it is only peak hour traffic that really matters.

How much spectrum is CURRENTLY USED by wireless operators in the top 100 Markets? (SOURCE: Mary Meeker and WSJ):

  • AT&T: 91MHZ (less unused spectrum; 32MHz-700 band & 12MHz-AWS) = 47MHZ
  • Verizon: 91MHZ (less unused 13MHz-AWS band) = 78MHz
  • Sprint: 53MHz
  • T-Mobile: 54MHz
  • MetroPCS: 21MHz
  • Leap Wireless: 20 MHz
  • Clearwire: 30 MHz

TOTAL: 300 MHz

How much spectrum is NOT USED by wireless operators in the top 100 Markets?

  • Cable Companies unused AWS band: 19 MHz
  • AT&T’s unused 700 MHZ and AWS bands: 32MHz + 12 MHz = 44MHz
  • Verizon’s unused AWS band = 13 MHz
  • Clearwire’s unused 2.6 GHz spectrum = 100 MHz
  • Harbinger’s unused satellite spectrum for terrestrial use = 59MHz

TOTAL: 345 MHz

The conclusion: there is no immediate spectrum shortage.

Only 300 MHz (give or take) is now used by wireless operators. They could add another 345 MHZ right now. No auction required. Doubling the spectrum and using LTE (with twice the spectrum efficiency), would deliver four times the current capacity.

The FCC hopes to make another 300 Mhz available for a spectrum auction in the United States. Good luck on getting a good price, Mr. Chairman. Carriers can double their spectrum by using what’s currently available and unused.

Carriers will jack up their prices if they get congested. Who’s going to stop them?

That’s why 60-80 MHz of the 300 MHz that the FCC “found”, ought to be set aside for municipalities and public/private partnerships. Municipal broadband can deliver 100 Mbps per sector using WiMAX 2.0. Inexpensive relay architecture, similar to WiFi repeaters, and “white spaces”, with superior building penetration, could deliver the goods. Fast and cheap.

If municipalities donated their rooftops, transit shelters, and rights of way, costs could be lowered dramatically. Why not $10 per 10 Mbps as a universal service goal? Why let carriers like Verizon, with 47% profit margins and overseas ownership, dictate the terms.

We’re human beings, God damnit. Our life has value.

Related Dailywireless stories include; AT&T Gets Heat on MediaFLO Spectrum, U.S. Wireless Growth, T-Mobile’s Secret Sauce: 2x10MHz, T-Mobile’s Secret Sauce: 2x10MHz, Open Range Gets Lightsquared Spectrum and AT&T Buying T-Mobile USA,

Posted by Sam Churchill on .

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