Despite 600 MHz auction concerns, T-Mobile’s CTO reiterates 2017 buildout hopes

Neville Ray, T-Mobile’s EVP and CTO, reiterated the carrier’s expectations that it will be able to begin building out a network on 600 MHz spectrum as early as next year.

“We’re in the middle, of course, of the 600 MHz auction. I think there’s a lot of talk of spectrum not getting built or available to use until the next decade. We’re very determined to prove that wrong,” Ray said during an appearance at the recent Goldman Sachs Communacopia investor conference. “We look to deploy that spectrum as quickly as is possible … So is that a ’17 opportunity, into ’18? We believe that is the case.”

T-Mobile’s desire to move quickly on its 600 MHz deployment stems from the carrier’s desire to expand the geographic reach of its LTE network. T-Mobile is currently building out its LTE network with 700 MHz spectrum, and hopes to continue that effort by winning 600 MHz spectrum licenses in the FCC’s ongoing auction.

The situation creates opportunities for wireless network installation companies keen to aid 600 MHz auction winners in their efforts to build out wireless networks using their spectrum holdings.

Ray’s comments echoed similar statements T-Mobile’s Peter Ewens made in May. Ewens, T-Mobile's executive vice president of corporate strategy, said at the time that "We believe we'll be able to get the start of deployment and usage at the end 2017.”

Added Ewens: "Obviously the repacking debate is still in play. I think personally the dynamic will change once the auction is over, because you will have winners in the reverse auction – that means broadcasters who want to get paid – and then you'll have everyone else. And right now I think it's easy for all the broadcasters to stand together and talk about how difficult repacking is, but once the auction's over there's a bunch of people who want to get paid. And they don't get paid until the stuff gets repacked."

Ray’s recent comments are particularly notable considering the reasons that the FCC’s ongoing 600 MHz incentive auction of TV broadcasters’ unwanted spectrum recently kicked into “stage 2.” The first stage of the event ended with a significant discrepancy between the amount of money broadcasters wanted to sell their spectrum for in the “reverse” portion of the auction, and the amount doled out by bidders in the “forward” portion: $23 billion in the forward auction versus $88.4 billion in the reverse portion.

The fact that the auction moved into a second stage raises the possibility that the event might not end until next year, because broadcasters and bidders will need to reach parity on the auction’s overall amount.

Nevertheless, the FCC is already working on the post-auction transition and TV channel repack plan, whereby broadcasters’ licenses will be kneaded into a design suitable for a wireless network. In recent prepared remarks to the Senate Commerce Committee, Wheeler said the Incentive Auction Task Force will soon release for discussion and comment transition models to calculate the order and schedule of station relocation efforts.

Related articles:
FCC incentive auction repack plan coming soon
T-Mobile: We'll start to use incentive auction spectrum 'at the end of 2017'