FCC sets comment deadlines for 24 GHz, 39 GHz license transfer from FiberTower to AT&T

small cells
High-band spectrum doesn’t propagate as far as lower bands but offers superior capacity, making it ideal for small cells.

The FCC established deadlines for comments related to AT&T’s proposed acquisition of hundreds of millimeter wave licenses from FiberTower, which is in the process of becoming a wholly-owned subsidiary of AT&T.

A series of comment deadlines begins March 30 and ends April 13.

AT&T agreed to acquire all of FiberTower’s assets back in January, including licenses that are the subject of a pending remand from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit. Back in 2012, FiberTower filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, and the FCC in 2014 deemed that FiberTower did not demonstrate that it had deployed a service substantial enough to meet FCC buildout requirements.

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AT&T argued that it will be a good steward of the licenses and will work to put a thriving ecosystem in place to maximize the 24 and 39 GHz spectrum for innovative 5G use cases.

According to the FCC’s preliminary review of the current license transfer proposal, AT&T would acquire from FiberTower, on a population-weighted basis, control of 7.2 megahertz to 796.8 megahertz of 39 GHz spectrum in 3,165 counties in all or parts of 727 Cellular Market Areas (CMAs) covering about 312 million people, or 99.8% of the U.S. population.

Post-transaction, AT&T would hold a maximum of 796.8 megahertz of 39 GHz spectrum. In no county would AT&T trigger the spectrum threshold of 1,250 megahertz established in the FCC’s Spectrum Frontiers Report & Order, which established limits in the 28 GHz, 37 GHz and/or 39 GHz bands.

In addition, the FCC said that as a result of the proposed transaction, AT&T would acquire control of 1 megahertz to 400 megahertz of 24 GHz spectrum in 365 counties in all or parts of 91 CMAs covering about 160 million people or about 51% of the U.S. population.

RELATED: AT&T cites FCC's decision in Straight Path matter in bid to get FiberTower licenses transferred

AT&T’s transaction is similar in strategy to Verizon’s $1.8 billion buyout of XO Communications, which was announced over a year ago. That deal, which closed earlier this year, brings Verizon access to spectrum in the 28 GHz and 39 GHz bands.

RELATED: AT&T quietly acquires FiberTower for 24, 39 GHz spectrum

High-band spectrum has become a top priority for carriers because while it doesn’t propagate as far as lower bands, it offers superior capacity, making it ideal for small cells. The FiberTower acquisition may not be a blockbuster in terms of dollars—terms were not disclosed—but it could prove a crucial move for AT&T in 5G.

RELATED: From Teligent to FiberTower to Verizon: An inside look at LMDS, millimeter wave and 5G

AT&T has said it expects 39 GHz spectrum will play a key role in 5G. Last month, it reached a milestone with Nokia by delivering DirecTV Now over a fixed wireless 5G connection using 39 GHz spectrum at AT&T’s Middletown, New Jersey lab. It’s also working with both Intel and Qualcomm Technologies device platforms to test and build toward 3GPP New Radio (NR) interoperability.

Thanks to the acceleration of the 5G standard via the 3GPP standards group, AT&T is preparing for the launch of standards-based mobile 5G as soon as late 2018.

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