CCA show: Expect spectrum, roaming, VoLTE and Wi-Fi offloading to dominate discussions

Mike Dano

Next week the Competitive Carriers Association kicks off its annual spring show, this time in San Antonio, Texas, and attendees can expect keynote presentations from SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son and Roger Sherman, the new chief of the FCC's Wireless Telecommunications Bureau. (Sherman is filling in for FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who was scheduled to keynote the CCA event but instead now has to testify before Congress.)  Key topics will include how to ensure smaller carriers can fully participate in the FCC's upcoming spectrum auctions, as well as how LTE roaming will work, whether competitive carriers will be able to offer Voice over LTE technology, and how they can offload data to Wi-Fi networks.

But mainly, the event will focus on how the nation's smaller carriers can effectively compete against "the duopoly" of AT&T Mobility and Verizon Wireless, which together provide service to roughly 231 million Americans. "That's one of the concepts that Masayoshi Son has been talking about," said Steve Berry, president and CEO of the CCA. "He sees every one of these carriers (in the CCA) in the same position he sees Sprint in: How do you compete with this duopoly?"

I'll be attending CCA next week and will be covering all the news from the show. I'll also be hosting the FierceWireless Executive Breakfast "Wi-Fi integration: Is it the right time?" and will be joined by speakers including Stephen Bye, CTO of Sprint; Alan Berrey, CEO, president and co-founder of Scratch Wireless; Karen Bruce, director of Wireless Data for Cincinnati Bell Wireless; Derek Peterson, SVP of Engineering for Boingo; and Simon Wynn, CTO of Devicescape. To register for this event, click here.

Berry said the CCA expects more than 1,000 attendees at next week's event, which he said is relatively similar to attendance figures at previous CCA spring shows. He also said that the show, which will feature more than 100 exhibitors, has drawn more carrier executives than in years past--despite recent consolidation in the industry that has seen top carriers including Clearwire, MetroPCS and Leap Wireless merge into larger providers.

As for the association's top issues, Berry said they include:

Spectrum: The CCA is laser-focused on ensuring that the FCC crafts spectrum auction rules that will allow smaller carriers to acquire licenses--meaning, rules that will prevent AT&T and Verizon from dominating the auctions. The auction of 600 MHz spectrum, set for 2015 and contingent on TV broadcasters giving up some spectrum, is of particular interest, Berry said.

"600 MHz--it may be one of the last prime greenfield spectrum builds that's going to be available in the next decade," he explained. "So how do we effectively utilize that?"

CCA recently issued a compromise proposal to the FCC urging the agency to license 600 MHz licenses in Partial Economic Area (PEA) blocks instead of the smaller Cellular Market Area (CMA) blocks--a move CCA said will ensure smaller carriers will be able to acquire necessary spectrum, particularly in rural areas. Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) has argued that the FCC should auction 600 MHz licenses in the larger EA blocks.

LTE data roaming: Berry said the CCA expects to show significant progress on its LTE data roaming hub, was announced at this time last year and is powered by Transaction Network Services (TNS). The hub should help smaller carriers work more easily together to expand their national footprints and will also provide a single point of interconnection for international operators looking to negotiate and implement roaming agreements with CCA members for LTE and other data services.

"Since (announcing the hub), we've actually tested the network," Berry said. "We have multiple carriers showing us that the network works."

"We have some people already connected, and I hope there will be some significant announcements," he added. "It's real, it's tangible and it's working."

Indeed, T-Mobile US CTO Neville Ray recently said that T-Mobile will look to roaming opportunities with smaller wireless carriers, largely thanks to the 700 MHz interoperability deal struck last year between AT&T and smaller carriers that hold A Block spectrum. U.S. Cellular (NYSE:USM) and C Spire Wireless are two of the larger A Block licensees.

FirstNet: Berry said FirstNet, which Congress created to oversee the building and operation of a nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN), is attending the CCA show. "They're going to give us some updates on what they're doing," Berry said, adding that smaller and rural carriers may find opportunities to work with FirstNet.

Interoperable devices: Last year the FCC approved an order to implement a 700 MHz interoperability solution that will eventually give smaller carriers access to the same 700 MHz LTE devices AT&T (NYSE:T) now uses. At the time of the announcement, CCA said the deal will allow members to build out nearly $2 billion worth of low band spectrum, which will "help spur economic growth, create jobs and benefit consumers throughout the nation."

"I think we're going to have some interesting announcements about device availability with carriers," Berry hinted, without providing details.

VoLTE: Berry said smaller carriers are closely watching the deployment of Voice over LTE by Verizon and AT&T (both of which have delayed deployments to sometime in the next year or two). "Our carriers want to be on that same platform (for VoLTE)," Berry said. "They want to be on that same train that carries them into 4G capability."

Wi-Fi offload: The CCA has been working in the Wi-Fi offload space for years: The group in 2012 announced a deal with Boingo Wireless to bring Wi-Fi offload solutions to CCA members, and in 2013 the group announced a partnership with Devicescape to "allow CCA carrier members access to Curated Wi-Fi offload and an 'always best connected' user experience."

Berry said Wi-Fi offload continues to be a hot topic among CCA members. "These are all good things to talk about," he said.

Finally, Berry said CCA continues to work to prepare for the group's fall show, which will be held in conjunction with the CTIA group under the "Super Mobility Week" banner in September. "It's been sort of difficult to market the spring show and not mention the fall show," Berry said. "The marketing aspect was sort of a challenge" because CTIA is already pushing its portion of Super Mobility Week. But, Berry said, "the carriers, they figured it out and they're coming" to this year's spring CCA show. --Mike | +MikeDano | @mikeddano