Analyst: T-Mobile's 28-39 GHz spectrum could give it advantage in 5G trials

T-Mobile US' (NYSE:TMUS) 200 MHz of high-band spectrum in the 28-39 GHz range could give the carrier a first-mover advantage in 5G trials, Wells Fargo equity analysts said in a recent research note.

mit rfid

Click on image to enlarge. (Source:
Allnet Insights & Analytics)

T-Mobile is currently involved in several 5G trials and while there's still healthy debate around the timing of 5G, most agree that high-band spectrum would play a key role, Wells Fargo Securities senior analyst Jennifer Fritzsche wrote in the report. Wells Fargo analysts met with T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray on March 10.

A T-Mobile representative told FierceWirelessTech that the high-band spectrum came to T-Mobile when it acquired MetroPCS in 2012, so it's not a new acquisition. Asked about how T-Mobile is using or plans to use the high-band spectrum, a spokesperson said: ‎"We have spectrum holdings in the 28 GHz and 39 GHz bands, which look like they will be made available for 5G use by the FCC. At Mobile World Congress, we announced we will be moving forward with 5G testing and trials this year."

Verizon (NYSE: VZ) plans to acquire XO Communications' fiber optic network business for $1.8 billion and with that, not only does it get 1.2 million fiber miles, but also the lease of XO's spectrum in the 28 GHz and 39 GHz bands, which Verizon has the option to buy before the end of 2018. The carrier has said it can use XO's spectrum to do 5G testing.

It's worth noting that neither T-Mobile nor XO hold licenses that cover the whole country; T-Mobile's 200 MHz is in certain markets. Brian Goemmer, president of Allnet Insights & Analytics based in the Seattle area, said he doesn't think having the high-band spectrum holdings is really a strategic advantage for anyone because the FCC controls so much of the spectrum in those bands above 24 GHz. It should not be a big deal to get a temporary license in pretty much any market to do 5G tests, as several vendors already have done. New York City may be the exception, but a lot of LMDS spectrum was turned back to the FCC after earlier businesses failed.

mit rfid

Click on image to enlarge. (Source:
Allnet Insights & Analytics)

T-Mobile didn't comment on how it's presently using the spectrum, but Goemmer said he believes it was probably intended for some type of backhaul. According to Goemmer's research, AT&T doesn't hold any of the higher-band spectrum, and Sprint has some LMDS 28 GHz spectrum in Alaska.

During T-Mobile's fourth-quarter earnings conference call last month, Ray seemed to imply that the carrier can benefit by having the high-band spectrum rather than filling out applications for special temporary authority (STA) with the FCC and waiting for it to grant permission to do tests.

"We're there in the race," he said, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript. "We'll make sure that there's nothing in the 5G space that we don't deliver to our customers on or before our competition does. And just one last thought, the spectrum you mentioned it… there's going to be a lot of new bands of spectrum that get worked through and identified for 5G. And ironically, T-Mobile here, we've already got significant spectrum holdings in what we believe will be declared 5G spectrum allocations. That doesn't mean anybody has the spectrum that they need for a full 5G vision, but we're out in front and the other guys for their trials are filing STAs, they're having to get test licenses. We already have a big swath of spectrum across many parts of the country that we can use for 5G tests and trials."

While Verizon has been talking about commercial 5G services starting as early as 2017, Ray said the real consumer benefit comes in 2020.

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