YOU ARE AT:CarriersAT&T Mobility's spectrum focus turns to 2.3 GHz band; challenges remain

AT&T Mobility’s spectrum focus turns to 2.3 GHz band; challenges remain

AT&T Mobility’s desire to secure spectrum resources has turned to the 2.3 GHz band, which is currently dominated by satellite radio operator Sirius XM. In a joint filing with the Federal Communications Commission, AT&T and Sirius XM laid out plans to open up some of that band to wireless broadband services.

The filing looks to preserve Sirius XM’s 25 megahertz of spectrum in that band, provide for 5 megahertz of guard bands on either side of those holdings, and free up 25 megahertz for mobile broadband services.

“But this proposal, if accepted, will enable the adoption of technical rules satisfactory to both interests and should enable licensees in the 2.3 GHz WCS band to deploy the most efficient new mobile broadband technologies, including LTE, while not posing an unreasonable interference threat to satellite radio reception,” explained Joan Marsh, VP of Federal Regulatory at AT&T, noted in a blog post.

AT&T Mobility had previously railed against an FCC proposal to open up the 2.3 GHz band to mobile broadband services, noting objections to some of the rules that it said would limit the usefulness of the band.

While AT&T Mobility is leading the mobile industry’s latest foray into utilizing the 2.3 GHz band, a number of entities own spectrum in that band, including Sprint Nextel, NextWave Wireless, Horizon Wi-Com and Comcast. The FCC originally auctioned off the 2.3 GHz spectrum in 1997, with results falling short of expectations. Total bids came in at just $13.6 million, or less than one-tenth of the significantly lowered estimate of the Congressional Budget Office.

Those license winners eventually coalesced around the WCS Coalition organization that originally was looking to deploy WiMAX services across that band.

Wells Fargo Securities noted in a report that the 2.3 GHz spectrum plans could prove a long-term asset to AT&T.

“While this is an important step in terms of enhancing its amount of ‘usable’ spectrum, there is still a substantial amount of work to be done before WCS can be used and potential negotiations which [AT&T] must undertake if it wants to consolidate its holding,” explained Wells Fargo Securities in a research note. “Just last week, [AT&T] CEO Randall Stephenson indicated that it has both short term and long term spectrum solutions. Although [we] view this news as an incremental positive for AT&T, we would put it in the ‘long term’ bucket in terms of spectrum solutions. In our view, this is not the only path AT&T will pursue as it looks to secure greater spectrum opportunities to meet future data demand.”

For AT&T Mobility, the move to secure additional spectrum resources follows its failed attempt to acquire T-Mobile USA, which the carrier said was initiated to bolster its spectrum portfolio. The federal government cited competitive concerns in negating the deal that would have combined the nation’s No. 2 and No. 4 carriers into a new No. 1 operator, while critics said the deal would also consolidate a vast majority of spectrum assets into the hands of the nation’s two largest operators.

While AT&T Mobility was denied T-Mobile USA, a deal that also cost the carrier a significant chunk of 1.7/2.1 GHz spectrum and cash, it did manage to close on the acquisition of 700 MHz spectrum holdings from Qualcomm. AT&T Mobility is also rumored to be a strong suitor of Verizon Wireless’ attempt to sell off some of its A- and B-Block 700 MHz licenses should it gain approval of its plans to acquire 1.7/2.1 GHz spectrum from a number of cable providers.

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