AT&T scores AWS, 2.3 GHz WCS spectrum for LTE

AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) received approval from the FCC to acquire a trove of new spectrum in the AWS and 2.3 GHz WCS bands, which it intends to use for LTE service in the years ahead.

AT&T had assembled the deals throughout the year and the FCC grouped them together and approved them all at once yesterday. The carrier is getting spectrum from NextWave Wireless--which it announced plans to acquire in August for $600 million--as well as from Comcast, Horizon Wi-Com and San Diego Gas & Electric Company.

AT&T acquired AWS and WCS spectrum in 608 cellular market areas, covering 82 percent of the population of the continental United States. Specifically, AT&T is getting 10-20 MHz of WCS A and B Block spectrum in 473 CMAs, covering close to 70 percent of the continental U.S. population; 5-10 MHz of WCS C and D Block spectrum in 344 CMAs, covering 54 percent of the continental U.S. population; and 10-30 MHz of AWS spectrum in 29 CMAs, covering 2 percent of the continental U.S. population.

AT&T wants to use the extra spectrum to add capacity to its LTE network, which currently runs mainly over its 700 MHz spectrum. The addition of WCS spectrum is notable since AT&T already owned a significant chunk of the nation's WCS licenses, and an FCC order in October approved technical changes to the 2.3 GHz band that allowed AT&T to deploy LTE on WCS spectrum. The FCC acted after AT&T and Sirius XM submitted a proposal in June that would change the rules governing WCS spectrum while protecting Sirius XM from interference.

In a statement, Joan Marsh, AT&T's vice president of federal regulatory, applauded the FCC for freeing up spectrum that had been lying fallow. "Repositioning the WCS band for LTE deployment is a significant accomplishment which will spur aggressive investment by AT&T and create good paying jobs across the wireless and technology eco-systems," she said. "This is also a win for our customers, who will benefit from today's order for years to come as we realize the spectrum's full potential to enhance our wireless broadband offerings."

However, it will take AT&T years to deploy LTE in its WCS spectrum. When AT&T proposed acquiring NextWave this summer, it said it would start to deploy the spectrum in the next three years. The carrier said it will need to add the 2.3 GHz band to the LTE standard through the 3GPP, design equipment and test it, design cell sites and construct cell sites to handle the new spectrum. 

AT&T's spectrum purchase represents and effort by the carrier to catch up with Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ), which earlier this year enriched its spectrum portfolio through its $3.9 billion acquisition of nationwide AWS spectrum from a group of cable companies, including Comcast.

For more:
- see this FCC document (PDF)
- see this The Verge article
- see this AT&T blog post

Related Articles:
FCC approves AT&T's 2.3 GHz WCS spectrum plan
AT&T details hunt for WCS, AWS spectrum
Analysis: AT&T's WCS spectrum shopping spree won't catch it up to Verizon
AT&T to acquire NextWave--and its WCS spectrum--for $600M
AT&T: It would take 4-5 years to get WCS spectrum online for LTE