Verizon, AT&T, Dish – everyone wants a piece of the mmWave spectrum pie

Just like what's old is considered new again, it seems that what was once considered worthless is now considered quite valuable. Case in point: Millimeter wave frequencies, historically considered unsuitable for mobile applications due to propagation losses and the inability of signals to propagate around obstacles, are now the subject of myriad mobile operator tests, trials and tribulations. It's seen as key to 5G, and many mobile operators – and others – want to get their hands on it. That's why, in our latest special report, we're featuring a set of high-band spectrum maps created by Allnet Insights & Analytics.

In the area of "tribulations," the latest gambit involves Dish Network lobbying the FCC to deny Verizon's proposed $1.8 billion acquisition of XO Communications' spectrum assets and fiber business. Verizon's purchase of XO includes the ability for Verizon to lease XO's LMDS spectrum with an option to buy it before the end of 2018. XO has 102 LMDS licenses in 28 GHz and 39 GHz bands that Verizon can use for 5G-related endeavors.

Dish claims that the LMDS frequencies – many of which were ditched by past spectrum holders due to, let's call it, unsuccessful business plans -- are among the most important "next-frontier" airwaves for 5G, and licensed millimeter wave spectrum in that range "will be controlled almost exclusively by Verizon" should the acquisition go through. Dish argues that by structuring the spectrum component of the transaction as a de facto transfer lease instead of an acquisition, Verizon can avoid discussion of the total impact of its deal with XO Holdings.

Other operators also are eyeing the mmWave bands for 5G tests in markets around the country. AT&T expects to conduct 5G trials at fixed locations using mmWave spectrum, and Sprint just revealed this week that it will use the COPA America soccer tournament in June to demonstrate 5G capabilities using mmWave in concert with Nokia and Ericsson. Some analysts think T-Mobile US' 200 MHz of high-band spectrum in the 28-39 GHz range could give it a first-mover advantage in 5G trials. T-Mobile is also aiming to do tests at 28 GHz and 39 GHz. 

But it's not all smooth sailing for them, either. Satellite players are crying foul and saying the mobile industry isn't cooperating enough when it comes to developing a framework for sharing in the 28 GHz band and at 37.5-40.0 GHz. If the mobile industry doesn't show a little more cooperation, it might hear from FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who back in March gave a stern warning to the satellite industry at its annual Satellite Industry Association's dinner event to quickly find solutions.

So, just where is all this specrum and how much is up for grabs? In this special report, Allnet Insights & Analytics highlights various spectrum bands – 24 GHz, 28/29 GHz, 31 GHz and 39 GHz, as well as total 5G licensed spectrum under FCC control – in a series of maps showing what's where across the U.S. Check them out, and let us know what you think in the comments section.--Monica