Licensed spectrum remains perhaps the most important building block in the wireless industry. As a result, nationwide carriers like Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint are eager to both obtain suitable spectrum holdings across the country, and to use those spectrum licenses in the most effective way possible.
But where exactly do these nationwide carriers own spectrum? And what type of spectrum do they own? And how much?
To answer these questions, FierceWireless has once again partnered with Allnet Insights & Analytics, a wireless spectrum research and analysis firm, to map out exactly how much spectrum each of the four Tier 1 nationwide U.S. wireless carriers currently owns. Also included in this list is Dish Network, which for the past several years has been quietly accumulating a war chest of spectrum that today almost rivals that of T-Mobile.
These maps and charts include all pending spectrum transactions filed before April 30, 2017 (the FCC reviews all license spectrum transactions). Importantly, these maps and charts also include the results of the FCC’s recently completed incentive auction of TV broadcasters’ unwanted 600 MHz licenses. For complete details on the results of that auction, click here. Allnet Insights' data also includes the spectrum AT&T is getting access to through its partnership with FirstNet.
In order to highlight what types of spectrum each carrier owns, Allnet Insights & Analytics broke its charts and maps out into three categories:
- Low Band: 600 MHz, 700 MHz and Cellular/SMR (which is Sprint's spectrum adjacent to the Cellular band)
- Mid Band: PCS, AWS-1/2/3/4
- High Band: WCS (2.3 GHz), EBS/BRS (2.5 GHz)
It’s important to note that each spectrum band has its own unique characteristics. For example, low-band spectrum is ideal for covering large geographic areas and penetrating buildings. High-band spectrum, on the other hand, typically doesn’t transmit as far as low-band spectrum but is generally able to carry more data at faster speeds.
So let’s get on with it!
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This chart breaks down the spectrum held by the top five spectrum holders in the United States further, showing how much spectrum each holds in the nation’s top five largest markets. Allnet notes that, in Dallas, Verizon's low band spectrum holdings are much lower than the other top five markets because AT&T owns both of the cellular licenses in this market.
This chart breaks down the spectrum held by the top five spectrum holders in the United States further, showing how much spectrum each holds in the nation’s top 6-10 largest markets.
However, to be clear, these maps do not include spectrum in the millimeter-wave range, which is generally spectrum above 28 GHz. If AT&T closes its purchase of FiberTower and Verizon closes its purchase of Straight Path, the two carriers stand to own the bulk of the nation’s available, licensed millimeter-wave spectrum. Indeed, Allnet Insights & Analytics noted AT&T would own roughly 136 MHz of millimeter wave spectrum with FiberTower’s active licenses (or over 450 MHz of millimeter wave spectrum if all of FiberTower’s terminated licenses are restored) and Verizon stands to gain over 1200 MHz of millimeter-wave spectrum. Both carriers have said such spectrum will underpin their planned 5G networks.
Now that we’ve taken a look at spectrum ownership on a nationwide average, and in the nation’s top 10 largest markets, it’s time to get a detailed look at the total amount of high-, mid- and low-band spectrum each carrier owns across the United States.
Scroll down for maps for Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Dish.
Verizon is the nation’s largest wireless carrier with around 146 million customers at the end of the first quarter. The operator’s LTE network covers roughly 314 million POPs. Verizon initially built its LTE network on the 700 MHz spectrum licenses it won in the FCC’s 700 MHz spectrum auction during 2008. It has since bolstered those spectrum holdings via acquisitions of other licenses including AWS-1 spectrum licenses as well as spending roughly $10.4 billion in 2015 on AWS-3 spectrum licenses.
However, Verizon did not win any 600 MHz licenses in the FCC’s recent incentive auction.