AT&T's WCS spectrum plan moves toward FCC vote

AT&T Mobility's (NYSE:T) plan to turn the 2.3 GHz WCS band into spectrum it can use to deploy LTE is going to get a hearing next month at the FCC.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski circulated an order to his fellow commissioners to allow LTE mobile broadband deployment in 20 MHz of WCS spectrum. The FCC said the commission will vote on the proposal at its meeting on Oct. 17. If the measure is approved, it would also make an additional 10 MHz of spectrum available for fixed broadband, with the possibility of mobile broadband use in the future. 

AT&T and Sirius XM put forward a proposal in June that would change the rules governing WCS spectrum while protecting Sirius XM from interference. 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 of 10 MHz to block against interference.

While AT&T has been pushing that proposal it is also working to get FCC approval for its purchase of WCS licenses from NextWave Wireless, Comcast and Horizon Wi-Com. AT&T said in August it would buy spectrum-holding company NextWave in a deal valued at $600 million. If the FCC order is approved and AT&T gets access to extra WCS spectrum, analysts estimate that AT&T will have around 20 MHz of usable WCS spectrum for LTE service in many areas of the country, especially in the Midwest and West, and an average of 12 MHz nationwide.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said last week at an investor conference that the additional spectrum could give AT&T enough breathing room on network capacity for the next three to five years. AT&T has said it can begin initial deployment of WCS spectrum for added LTE capacity in approximately three years.

However, not everyone is pleased with AT&T's attempts to amass more spectrum, including more 700 MHz and AWS spectrum. The Competitive Carriers Association has urged the FCC to combine AT&T's various spectrum purchases into one comprehensive transaction that the agency could more effectively review. CCA is also pushing the FCC to place stipulations on the spectrum if it approves of AT&T's purchases, including 700 MHz interoperability and data roaming regulations. AT&T, for its part, staunchly argued against such a move, contending it would "introduce delay that is contrary to the public interest."

"Allowing the largest carriers to obtain unlimited amounts of spectrum on the secondary market raises serious competitive concerns," said CCA President and CEO Steven Berry. "The only way for the FCC to truly see the devastating consequences of further spectrum aggregation is by consolidating the proposed applications. On their own, AT&T's proposed license acquisitions may not seem significant, but when added together, it totals to a significant amount of spectrum."

For more:
- see this GigaOM article

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