AT&T Mobility will launch its first five LTE markets this Sunday Sept. 18, reports Fierce Wireless.
AT&T said in May that it will launch LTE service in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. The company expects to deploy LTE across 70 million POPs in 15 markets by year-end. At that time AT&T said it will charge $50 for 5 GB of data for its data-only LTE devices; but it did not reveal potential LTE smartphone data pricing.
AT&T calls their HSPA+ “4G”, but the speeds are generally lower than those of T-Mobile’s because T-Mobile’s HSPA+ gangs two channels together. AT&T plans to have 15 markets and 70 million people covered with LTE by the end of the year.
By contrast, Verizon launched LTE service in December 2010, and now covers more than 160 million people in the United States, more than half the population. The network is available in 143 markets, and Verizon expects to cover 175 markets and 185 million POPs with LTE by year-end.
Sprint began WiMAX service in Baltimore, in October, 2008. Clearwire’s 4G network currently provides coverage “in areas of the U.S. where more than 130 million people live”.
AT&T CFO John Stephens said during a Media, Entertainment & Communications conference that 45 percent of AT&T’s total smartphone customer base, or 15 million customers, are on usage-based smartphone data plans. He also said one-third of them, or about 5 million, are on the $15 for 200 MB plan, and two-thirds, or 10 million, use the the $25 for 2 GB plan, reports Fierce Wireless.
AT&T’s total investment in 700 MHz spectrum is $6.6B (from the FCC’s 2008 auction) + $2.5B (Aloha Partners purchase) + $1.9B (Qualcomm purchase), or a total of $11 billion.
- In 2007, AT&T acquired 700 MHz spectrum in the “A” block from Hiwire (Aloha Parters) in a $2.5 billion deal
- In 2008, AT&T bid $6.6 billion to acquire an additional 227 B Block licenses during the FCC’s 700 MHz auction. In a number of places AT&T bought both the B and C block licenses in the Lower 700 MHz band, giving them double the bandwidth – 24 MHz total.
- In 2009, AT&T also bought Paul Allen’s 700 MHZ Vulcan Spectrum licenses in Washington and Oregon that he acquired in 2003
- In 2010, AT&T announced it would buy Qualcomm’s unpaired MediaFLO licences for $1.93 billion for up to 12MHz in the lower 700MHz D and E block.
AT&T and Verizon appear to have rough parity in 700 MHz spectrum, although Verizon’s licenses are easier to manage since they provide nationwide 22 MHz coverage, while AT&T has to combine many more regional and local licenses.
Lets’ review the current spectrum available to carriers in the United States:
- AT&T Mobility:
The 2nd largest carrier in the United States plans to piece together 700 MHz licenses for LTE service, since their spectrum blocks were not nationwide. They won smaller B & C licenses (5MHz x 2) for LTE in 700MHz, that are regional and local in nature and are piecing together that plus their “A” block for national service. But combining “A” with the “B” & “C” blocks could be tricky since they require different power standards. AT&T is still not using their AWS band (1.7/2.1 GHz) that it bought in 2006 or the downstream only 700MHz MediaFLO channels that it is attempting to buy from Qualcomm. AT&T hopes to utilize unused T-Mobile AWS frequencies for HSPA+, but T-Mobile is nearly tapped out. AT&T likes to call HSPA+ “4G”. Bottom line: AT&T has unused AWS frequences and may have spotty 700 MHz coverage. Their current headroom for expansion seems limited.
- T-Mobile USA:
T-Mobile, the 4th largest carrier in the US, is using most of their AWS spectrum already. They use PCS frequencies (1.9 GHz) mostly for voice and their AWS frequencies (1.7/2.1 GHz) mostly for HSPA+. AT&T says its proposed merger with T-Mobile will allow them to offer more 4G in more places. But T-Mobile is already deploying HSPA+ which gangs two AWS bands together for double the spectrum (10MHz x 2). They don’t have much spectrum to spare. A merger with AT&T would mostly save money on towers and could even be regressive if HSPA+ is expanded. Bottom line: T-Mobile has very little unused AWS frequences and no LTE plans. Their spectrum headroom is about nill.
- Verizon Wireless:
The number one carrier in the United States paid nearly $10 billion for 20 MHz (10MHz x 2) of nationwide 700 MHz coverage. Their coast-to-coast LTE service has been widely praised for superior performance. Verizon’s pioneering success with LTE has a downside, however – where do they go from here. Verizon has very little AWS spectrum and will likely have to wait until additional spectrum is available before it can expand their LTE service. Dish, SpectrumCo, or Sprint’s 2.6GHz band are possibilities. Verizon said they don’t want the “D” block, but their political position could change.
The 3rd largest carrier in the United States was widely derided for buying Nextel 6-7 years ago. While the deal was a disaster on the books, the company acquired large chunks of 2.6 GHz spectrum and Nextel’s 800 MHz spectrum. They got nothin’ on 700. Today Sprint-Nextel owns about half of Clearwire and some 150 MHz in the 4G world band at 2.6 GHz. Bottom line: Sprint-Nextel has lots of spectrum headroom.
Smaller carriers fear they’ll be shut out of 700MHz Block “A” roaming. AT&T might throw Justice a bone, agreeing to sell off their “A” block and MediaFLO unpaired spectrum, along with price guarantees. That would be easy. Making the AT&T/T-Mobile merger pencil out without more spectrum would be hard. You don’t need an MBA to figure that out.
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