There were many important wireless developments in 2012 and Fierce Wireless has a good roundup to the top spectrum stories.
My own take would include:
- T-Mobile’s merger with MetroPCS. MetroPCS and T-Mobile use AWS spectrum (1.7/2.1 GHz) making it easier for the two companies to combine their resources.
The combined company delivers around 42.5 million subscribers in the U.S. with an estimated revenue of around USD 24.8 billion. The goal is to acquire 2 x 20 MHz of AWS spectrum for LTE Advanced. HSPA would be moved to the PCS band.
- Softbank’s $20 billion investment in Sprint Nextel. Softbank is the Japan’s 3rd largest mobile operator with a market share of 23 percent.
Combined, Sprint and Japan’s Softbank will be the world’s third-largest carrier by sales with a combined total of around 96 million subscribers (compared to Verizon’s 111 million and AT&T’s 105 million).
- Verizon’s nationwide AWS for $3.9 billion. The largest carrier in the United States, Verizon could combine it with their other AWS holdings for 20 MHz channels, which coupled with LTE-Advanced technology could give it significant throughput gains.
The Verizon/Cable deal valued the spectrum purchased at $0.69 per MHz-POP (the number of people covered by each megahertz). That’s a big jump from the $0.45 per MHz-POP that cable operators paid in 2006.
- AT&T purchase of AWS and 2.3 GHz WCS spectrum. It will allow mobile broadband on 20MHz channels.
AT&T previously said it will take around four and a half years to make repurposed 2.3 GHz Wireless Communication Service (WCS) spectrum usable for LTE services. In addition, AT&T will need to construct the infrastructure to deliver it.
- Approval of Dish’s 40 MHz for terrestrial use. Dish now has the authority to establish a nationwide, broadband wireless service, using LTE-Advanced (Frequency Division), with 2 x 20MHz using their 2.1 GHz band.
Dish lost the spectrum interference battle it’s been fighting, but still got most of what it wanted from the FCC. The unanswered question: who will get the Dish spectrum. It could be a domestic carrier like AT&T or Sprint, an international carrier like América Móvil or Telefónica or even a new entrant like Google.
- Sprint’s Proposed Purchase of Clearwire. Sprint hopes to acquire the approximately 50 percent stake in Clearwire it does not currently own for $2.97 per share, equating to a total payment to Clearwire shareholders, other than Sprint, of $2.2 billion. Even if that deal collapsed, both Intel and Comcast would sell their stakes if Sprint completes an alternative transaction.
If it goes through, Sprint will then own more than a third of the 547 MHz of spectrum useable for wireless broadband, but with with less than one sixth of U.S. customers.
Another five important spectrum stories include the opening of 3.5 GHz for small cells, the TV spectrum Incentive Auction plans for 2013 and 2014, unlicensed White Space transmission in the television band, Lightsquare’s failure to get okay for terrestrial LTE, and approval of the 802.11ac standard in the 5 GHz band which should make home entertainment networks really fly.
To my mind, the Sprint/Softbank merger was the biggest story. The 2.6 GHz spectrum — all 190 MHz of it — is massive, and the most globally compatible spectrum for LTE. If Google, Amazon and Apple want an LTE world phone that works in China, Europe, Asia and the US, there’s one place to be – the 2.5/2.6GHz band. TD-LTE devices are available now.
AT&T says they plan to use 40,000 small cells. I don’t think so — unless they’re talking femtos inside homes. Outdoor small cell interference issues will cause the industry to move to cloud-controlled basestations. Unharmonized spectrum (like AT&T’s 2.3 GHz or 2.1 GHz from Dish) isn’t going to cut it. Too much rollout delay. Too little industry support.
The big spectrum stories next year will center on Apple, Google and Amazon on the 2.6 GHz band. Admittedly, it’s got lousy propagation, which means building out coverage could cost twice as much as the AWS/WCS bands. Benefits of the 2.6 GHz band are global LTE device roaming, easy small cell deployment, and the bandwidth to handle video. Wholesale providers will team with carriers to handle voice and billing.