AT&T: It would take 4-5 years to get WCS spectrum online for LTE

AT&T (NYSE:T) thinks it will take around four and a half years to make repurposed 2.3 GHz Wireless Communication Service (WCS) spectrum usable for LTE services, even if the FCC adopts its proposed changes for the spectrum band. 

AT&T disclosed the timeline in a filing related to one it made last week on its proposal for the spectrum in conjunction with Sirius XM. The proposal would change the rules governing WCS spectrum while protecting Sirius XM from interference. AT&T is the largest holder of WCS spectrum, followed by spectrum holding company NextWave Wireless. The proposed changes could give AT&T the ability to deploy LTE on its WCS spectrum covering roughly 40 percent of the country.

Under the new proposal, AT&T would not use the C and D Block portion of the spectrum for mobile service in exchange for more liberal rules in the A and B Block section, thus allowing AT&T to deploy FDD-LTE service in that band. AT&T would essentially give Sirius XM a so-called guard band to block against interference.

In the filing, AT&T wrote that adding the 2.3 GHz band to the LTE standard through the 3GPP could take 12 months to complete; equipment design could take six months; equipment testing could take another nine months; cell site design could take three months; and cell site construction could take 24 months to finish.

"Adhering to this schedule will require significant efforts, focused attention, and--frankly--the absence of any delays caused by circumstances outside of the licensee's control," AT&T wrote. An FCC spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

As part of its proposal, AT&T is requesting that the FCC revise its rules so that AT&T would be required to cover 40 percent of the U.S. population using the spectrum in four years and 75 percent within 10 years.

Credit Suisse analyst Jonathan Chaplin wrote in a research note that it might take AT&T longer than four to five years to make use of the spectrum, and that in either case, AT&T will likely need to acquire more spectrum in the near term. "We continue to believe AT&T will act to close the gap, with Dish's S-Band spectrum, Clearwire's (NASDAQ:CLWR) 2.5GHz spectrum and potential Verizon (NYSE:VZ) AWS divestitures being AT&T's best options," he wrote.

For more:
- see this filing (PDF)

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