AT&T and US Cellular both received permission from the Federal Communications Commission this week to prepare for new deployments of C Band spectrum by testing network equipment that will operate at 3.7-3.8 GHz.
AT&T was granted a one-year period to conduct indoor and outdoor pre-deployment testing at 3.7-3.8 GHz in three locations. There will be 10 C Band sites in Macomb county, Michigan; 11 in Santa Clara county, California; eight in Dallas and Denton county, Texas; and three in San Diego county, CA.
AT&T is testing a variety of sites styles with up to three sectors, including equipment on monopoles, rooftop sites, utility poles and side-mounted on buildings. According to its filings, the carrier is testing 29 base stations from Nokia and 54 from Ericsson, at multiple transmit power levels.
Meanwhile, US Cellular was granted an extension of nine months to conduct additional C Band testing to assess “operation, coverage, capacity, and propagation characteristics” at two sites, one in Wisconsin and one in Illinois. The carrier had originally been granted permission to start C Band equipment testing at those sites in October 2020, for a six-month period — but as the time ran out on that STA, the carrier told the FCC that it needed more time because of delays in vendor software updates.
“Owing to unforeseen delays relating to equipment vendor software updates which are necessary to support the required testing, US Cellular seeks a regular nine month experimental authorization which will allow the testing to be finalized,” the carrier said in its filing, adding that it did not believe additional time would be needed beyond the new request.
US Cellular is testing two base stations: one each from Nokia and Ericsson. The two sites are located in Delavan, Wisconsin and Belvidere, Illinois, and the carrier requested the ability to transmit at high effective radiated power (EIRP) in order to characterize path loss for the signals at a range between 1-12 kilometers.
In the C Band auction, US Cellular won 252 C Band licenses in 99 geographic areas that it says cover 94% of its subscribers in the 21 states where it operates, for a total cost of $1.46 billion, including relocation costs and incentive payments.
AT&T is investing $27.4 billion in C Band spectrum, including clearing costs and incentive payments. The carrier won 1,621 C Band licenses across the country and says that works out to 80 megahertz across the country. AT&T has said that it plans to deploy the first 40 megahertz by the end of next year and that overall, it plans spend $6-8 billion on deployment — with most of that occurring between 2022-2024.
Last week on AT&T’s quarterly call with investors, CEO John Stankey raised the potential for C Band equipment supply chain issues. Asked about the carrier’s plans for C Band deployment, Stankey said that global supply chains are “stretched” and as a result, he is “a little skittish”, adding that the company is “seeing dynamics that are occurring in the global supply chain where unexpected things are popping up, and it is possible that we could see certain element shortages that start to crop up as everybody’s racing to put stuff up on towers.”
Verizon has the most aggressive plans for C Band deployment, having won licenses costing $52.9 billion after clearing costs and incentive payments. The carrier said earlier this month that it has already begun deploying C Band sites. Verizon gained between 140-200 megahertz of spectrum in every market in the contiguous United States, including 60 megahertz of the A-block spectrum which will be the first to be cleared, by December of this year. Verizon executives have said that work is already underway to ready between 7,000-8,000 sites by the end of 2020, so that they can be turned up as soon as the spectrum is available. Those initial C Band sites will be built on existing Verizon infrastructure. Within twelve months of gaining access to the spectrum, Verizon plans to cover 100 million potential customers with its C Band network, with a ramp-up period in 2022-23 to cover 175 million POPs, and coverage of 250 million+ POPs in the period of 2024 and beyond.