T-Mobile: All 700 MHz LTE networks should interoperate

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T-Mobile USA waded into the complicated fight over LTE interoperability in the 700 MHz band, and urged the FCC to explore making the entire 700 MHz band interoperable. Such a move, T-Mobile argued, would encourage LTE roaming and help the public-safety community, which plans to use 700 MHz spectrum for a nationwide, interoperable broadband network.

The FCC next week will consider a notice of proposed rulemaking that looks at the potential for harmful interference to Lower 700 MHz B and C Block operations if the different parts of the Lower 700 MHz Band were made to be interoperable, and whether, if such interference exists, it can be reasonably mitigated. The FCC said in December it would initiate such a rulemaking when it approved AT&T's (NYSE:T) $1.93 billion purchase of Qualcomm's (NASDAQ:QCOM) Lower D and E Block 700 MHz MediaFLO spectrum licenses. 

The interoperability issue boils down to the different band classes within the 700 MHz spectrum band. Currently, LTE devices from AT&T Mobility cannot work on Verizon Wireless' LTE network because the two carriers are using different band classes.

In its filing, T-Mobile argued that the FCC should adopt rules that would make all of the band classes in the 700 MHz range interoperable. T-Mobile's position aligns the carrier with Vulcan Wireless, King Street Wireless (U.S. Cellular's bidding partner), C Spire Wireless and MetroPCS (NYSE:PCS), which all pushed for broader interoperability as a condition of AT&T's purchase of Qualcomm's spectrum.

T-Mobile argued that 700 MHz interoperability would make it easier for carriers like T-Mobile, which plans to deploy LTE next year in AWS spectrum, to strike roaming deals with 700 MHz LTE players like AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) and Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ). If there were a single 700 MHz band class, T-Mobile wrote, it would be easier and more convenient to roam onto multiple networks using 700 MHz spectrum.

"As the commission has recognized, roaming allows carriers to be more competitive and provides important benefits to consumers," T-Mobile wrote in its filing. "Moreover, because of the concentration in the wireless marketplace, roaming is an increasingly important tool for carriers to be able to compete. Therefore, current carriers' ability to provide roaming on 700 MHz systems will promote competition in the wireless marketplace, to the ultimate benefit of wireless consumers."

T-Mobile also said that 700 MHz interoperability will benefit first responders. FirstNet, the authority charged with managing the public-safety network, has been empowered by recently enacted legislation to strike roaming deals with commercial wireless carriers to cut down on costs and take advantage of their infrastructure and relationships with vendors.

"Without interoperability across the entire 700 MHz band, FirstNet will be unable to fulfill its obligations," T-Mobile wrote. "Like commercial carriers in other bands, it will be problematic for FirstNet to include a large number of multiple band classes in its equipment, limiting interoperability with all 700 MHz licensees. Unless there is interoperability across the entire 700 MHz band, public-safety entities will be limited in the carriers with whom they can potentially share infrastructure, roam, and enter into usage and lease agreements."

AT&T and Verizon, for their part, have argued against a mandate for 700 MHz interoperability. They contend that the government has no authority to create such a stipulation, that there are technical reasons against such a requirement, and that a 700 MHz interoperability mandate would create burdensome development costs that would slow the rollout of LTE.

For more:
- see this FCC filing (PDF)

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