It's a cliché in the industry but it's true: Spectrum is the lifeblood of wireless. With it, carriers can provide mast data service, robust voice coverage and have enough capacity to accommodate increasing data traffic. If a carrier has a lack of spectrum, even if it's just in a particular market, customers will know it and experience it, even if they don't know why. Data speeds will be slower, voice calls might drop and the overall network experience will not be up to par.
That's why carriers are willing to spend billions of dollars on spectrum, as we saw in the AWS-3 auction earlier this year. Spectrum is a long-term investment that requires a great deal of resources not only to purchase but then to deploy for customers through network equipment and mobile devices that support the new bands.
Yet how much spectrum do the Tier 1 carriers have for LTE? They talk often about the number of people they cover with LTE in various bands, but less so about how many megahertz they are deploying to those people, which is the best metric to gauge what the service will actually be like for customers when the sites get turned on. As in the case of most resources, the more you can muster or harvest, the better.
Just as we did last year, FierceWireless has partnered with Allnet Insights & Analytics, a wireless consulting firm, to map out exactly how much spectrum each of the four Tier 1 carriers currently has that they could deploy for LTE service, broken down on a county-by-county basis. According to AllNet President Brian Goemmer, a wireless industry veteran with 20 years of experience, AllNet has developed what it calls "Download Spectrum Depth Maps" to represent the available LTE spectrum for each of the Tier 1 carriers based upon their current LTE deployment configurations. The maps are based on a September 2015 data set.
The maps show the spectrum depth of the different carriers and also throw some recent developments into sharp relief. For instance, AT&T Mobility (NYSE: T) has started to deploy its 2.3 GHz WCS spectrum for LTE in certain markets and Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ) has started refarming some of its 1900 MHz PCS airwaves for LTE in several cities.
T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) has also been busy deploying its Band 12 700 MHz A Block spectrum across big chunks of the country. The company claims that the spectrum, which has dubbed "Extended Range LTE" now brings better rural and indoor service to 165 million POPs out of the 190 million POPs in total covered by the A Block licenses. However, the maps also indicate that there are still large swaths of the country, mainly in the Midwest and Mountain West where it lacks significant spectrum depth.
For Sprint (NYSE: S), the maps indicate that the company has turned on two-carrier carrier aggregation in the 2.5 GHz band, which it has been hyping for years. The technology allows Sprint to deliver real-world peak downlink speeds of 100 Mbps or more to customers, which it hopes will set the company apart.
All of the carriers prize their spectrum holdings and spectrum ranks as one of operators' most valued assets. These maps provide a snapshot of how much spectrum the carriers have to devote to LTE across the country. Please check out our special report and the maps, courtesy of Allnet Insights & Analytics, and let us know what you think in the comments. --Phil