AT&T, Verizon, FCC and the rest: These charts show who controls the nation’s licensed millimeter-wave spectrum

Based on new charts from Allnet Insights & Analytics, it’s clear that AT&T and Verizon are poised to control a significant chunk of the nation’s available, licensed millimeter-wave spectrum. This is important because these spectrum bands are expected to form a significant chunk of future 5G services.

Before we get into the details, let’s look at the first and most important chart from Allnet:

As with all discussions of spectrum, there are a number of caveats to cover here. First, these charts attribute all of XO's holdings and Straight Path's holdings to Verizon, and all of FiberTower's holdings to AT&T. However, the FCC is still reviewing Verizon’s Straight Path acquisition and AT&T’s FiberTower acquisition and may make changes to those transactions.

Further, AT&T agreed to acquire all of FiberTower’s assets back in January, including licenses that are the subject of a pending remand from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit. Back in 2012, FiberTower filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, and in 2014 the FCC deemed that FiberTower did not demonstrate that it had deployed a service substantial enough to meet FCC buildout requirements, paving the way for FiberTower to lose a portion of its licenses. AT&T is arguing that it will be a good steward of those terminated licenses and that it should be given control over them. Naturally, others disagree.

Thus, in the graphic above, the pie chart on the left side reflects only FiberTower’s active licenses, and the one on the right side indicates the effect of FiberTower’s active and terminated licenses. It’s unclear whether AT&T will ultimately gain control over FiberTower’s terminated licenses.

Now let’s dig further into the millimeter-wave space.

Millimeter-wave spectrum generally comprises radio waves above 20 GHz. Signals in such spectrum typically don’t travel very far but can transmit large amounts of data. Some millimeter-wave bands are unlicensed, meaning anyone can use them. Other bands, such as those at 24 GHz and 39 GHz, can only be used by entities that own a license provided by the FCC. The 28-31 GHz band, generally referred to as LMDS spectrum, is also a licensed millimeter-wave spectrum band.

The FCC manages the nation’s spectrum holdings, ensuring that it’s shared among licensees, government users and others. The FCC is currently debating whether and how to release additional spectrum it currently controls.

Thus, the above chart shows that the licensed bands in 24 GHz are largely split between the FCC and AT&T (via AT&T’s acquisition of FiberTower).


Thanks to Verizon’s acquisition of XO and Straight Path, the situation is much different in the 39 GHz band. As the above Allnet charts show, Verizon controls much of the band, alongside AT&T, the FCC and others.

Finally, the LMDS band is similarly split among the FCC, AT&T, Verizon and others, with Verizon controlling a majority of the licenses in that band:

To be clear, these charts represent a weighted average of these entities’ nationwide spectrum holdings but not actual nationwide coverage. Spectrum licenses are typically managed on a geographic basis, so for example Verizon might own a lot of spectrum on the East Coast but not as much in the South, but that ownership would be averaged out on a nationwide basis in these charts.