Verizon, T-Mobile Both Have LTE Expansion Plans

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2012-04-24 Print this article Print


T-Mobile explained in its FCC filings that the portion of the 700MHz spectrum that Verizon Wireless is planning to sell is relatively undesirable due to interference from powerful commercial transmitters on nearby frequencies and because of the lack of existing devices able to use those frequencies.

Verizon Wireless, of course, does not agree. In a prepared statement provided to eWEEK, Verizon spokesperson Robin Nicol said, "Verizon Wireless has made a strong case that approval of its spectrum license is in the public interest. This purchase will put unused spectrum into the hands of millions of consumers who will use it for high-quality wireless broadband service on Verizon's 4G LTE-enabled smartphones, tablets, and other devices.

"The FCC and Obama administration are focused on making more spectrum available for mobile broadband because they understand the benefits that will flow to consumers from more spectrum," Nicol's statement said.

According to Nicol, Verizon contends it "is also the most efficient user of spectrum among the carriers. T-Mobile's arguments ignore these facts and the needs of consumers and instead ask the FCC to second-guess the workings of the private commercial secondary market. That is not the purpose of the FCC's review."

To some extent, the real meaning of this clash lies more in what the opposing carriers don't say, rather than what they express in their statements. Verizon Wireless is right about its greater efficiency in using spectrum. The reason is that the company depends heavily on LTE for its data usage and LTE is more efficient than HSPA+, which is what T-Mobile uses.

However, T-Mobile wants more of the AWS spectrum so the company can launch LTE, which would make the spectrum efficiency argument moot in the next year or two. T-Mobile, meanwhile, has a point in that Verizon Wireless already has AWS spectrum it's not using and to let the company buy this would simply mean more spectrum in its unused inventory.

So who's right? That's hard to say, and with all of the competing opinions out there, it's not clear we'll ever find out. But right now there's enough doubt to go around. The FCC is taking its time to study the issue and it's fairly clear that Verizon Wireless is worried enough that it's offering up its 700MHz spectrum holdings on its own. Usually this is the sort of thing demanded by the FCC, but Verizon Wireless is doing it pre-emptively.

As to how this will turn out, I can see two likely outcomes. The first is that the FCC will simply not approve the transfer and let the AWS spectrum get sold to other carriers. The second is that the FCC will approve a partial sale and let another carrier, probably T-Mobile, have the other part. That would make both carriers equally unhappy, but it might give a little more flexibility to the spectrum crunch.

Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazine's Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.

He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.

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