While a lot of variables remain to be finalized--including who comes out on top in the ongoing AWS-3 auction--infrastructure vendors need to start planning their road maps for products that will make use of spectrum when it's available.
A query of some of the industry's biggest vendors indicates the first product introductions will occur in 2015, but a lot of factors will determine actual commercial deployments, not the least of which will be what their carrier customers want.
The AWS-3 frequencies are not yet standardized in 3GPP, and Nokia Networks (NYSE:NOK) expects that activity to start shortly and complete in either June or September of 2015, according to Mike Murphy, Nokia Networks' North American CTO.
After that, it will take about six months from that point for chipset and device manufacturers to complete development of commercial products, putting AWS-3 ready for practical use in the first half of 2016.
"Given this backdrop, Nokia Networks plans to have its AWS3 products ready in 2H15, to allow operators to deploy AWS3 networking equipment in advance of devices being available," he said in an email. "In all of these forecasts, some shifts can occur if the demand is strong enough, but this is what we would normally see when new frequency bands have been auctioned off."
Ericsson (NASDAQ: ERIC) plans to introduce radios capable of handling AWS-3 in 2015 to those customers that need them by then. While radios will be ready for deployment by the end of 2015, network deployment likely will be gated by a combination of cleared AWS-3 spectrum, operator product acceptance and ecosystem/device availability, according to Glenn Laxdal, vice president of Technology and Advanced Solutions at Ericsson North America.
Based on experience from previous AWS and 700 MHz auctions, it typically takes between two to three years from the end of an auction to the start of deployments. "The time depends on many factors, including the availability of spectrum after auction, the deployed technology and band standardization," he said. "Vendors will be working with operators for development and testing after the auction."
Alcatel-Lucent's (NYSE: ALU) plan regarding AWS-3 is to be ready for acceptance with operators in the second half of 2015 and to start deploying commercially in 2016, according to Denis Fauconnier, director of Wireless Strategy & Breakthroughs at Alcatel-Lucent, adding that's subject to change once the company gets more clarity from the winners of the auction on what they need.
Due to the auction's quiet period, operators are not allowed to discuss much of anything until the auction ends, so vendors don't have a lot of details on which to plan.
Last week, the FCC changed how it is conducting the auction, moving to six 30-minute bidding windows per day instead of the four, one-hour bidding rounds it had previously conducted. The goal is to give bidding entities less time to react between rounds and speed up the bidding, hastening the end of the auction. The auction will continue until there are no new bids or waivers in a given round.
At last count, the auction had raised $41.31 billion in provisional winning bids. Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ) and AT&T Mobility (NYSE: T) are expected to walk away with the bulk of the auction's 10x10 MHz paired spectrum licenses.
Most of the bidding has been concentrated on the paired spectrum in the auction, 1755-1780 MHz for uplink operations and 2155-2180 MHz for downlink, but for 5x5 MHz blocks within those bands. There also was continued bidding on the unpaired uplink 1695-1710 MHz band.
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