With 65 MHz of fallow licenses, AT&T sees spectrum position as ‘key differentiator vs. peers’

AT&T remains in a solid spectrum position, wrote the analysts at Deutsche Bank in a recent research note, such that the carrier can easily “respond to recent competitive moves (i.e., VZ Unlimited) more efficiently if it chose to do so.”

Deutsche Bank issued its research note shortly before AT&T announced its unlimited data service was available to everyone—not just customers of its DirecTV service. The carrier’s unlimited data plan starts at $100 a month for the first line and $40 a month for each additional line. A fourth line is free, so an account with four lines costs $180 a month after two initial months at $220 each. AT&T launched the plan last year exclusively for DirecTV subscribers, but now any user can sign up.

AT&T “believes its spectrum depth remains a key differentiator vs. peers, with up to 65MHz of ‘fallow’ capacity potentially available to deploy (40MHz of AWS-3/WCS, 5MHz of 2G spectrum, and 20MHz of 700MHz via FirstNet, were AT&T to win the outstanding RFP),” the analysts wrote of a meeting with top AT&T management including the carrier’s executive director, Chris Womack. “We believe this relative scale enables T to respond to recent competitive moves.”

Deutsche Bank’s tally of AT&T’s unused spectrum—65 MHz—is noteworthy considering the carrier touted up to 40 MHz of unused spectrum at its disposal. AT&T’s CFO John Stephens said last year the operator owns roughly 140 MHz of spectrum nationwide but is only using around 100 MHz of those holdings.

In a recent interview with FierceWireless, AT&T’s John Donovan reiterated that number and explained that AT&T counted its AWS and WCS spectrum in that amount, though he added AT&T has been deploying its WCS spectrum. AT&T first started rolling out services on its WCS spectrum in 2015. An AT&T spokesman declined to provide metrics for the carrier’s ongoing WCS spectrum rollout.

Nonetheless, the inclusion of 20 MHz of 700 MHz via AT&T’s apparent deal with FirstNet—alongside spectrum it likely will free up due to its recent 2G network shutdown—adds to the carrier’s overall spectrum tally. Though AT&T’s deal with FirstNet isn’t official, the carrier is, by all indications, in line to deploy FirstNet’s nationwide public safety network, which it could use for its own customers when police officers and others don’t need the network.)

The analysts at Deutsche Bank noted that AT&T’s overall spectrum position could also be enhanced with its other efforts, such as rolling out more fiber and experimenting with millimeter wave wireless services.