Report: Verizon starts refarming 1900 MHz spectrum for LTE in New York City

Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ) has started refarming its 1900 MHz PCS spectrum for LTE service in the New York City area, according to a GigaOM report.

The report, citing signals picked up by a reader, said that the 1980MHz/1990MHz band that Verizon has traditionally used for been its CDMA EV-DO service was seen supporting LTE signals. The reader, Milan Milanovic, said that he's found Verizon LTE on PCS spectrum at cell sites across Manhattan, but so far nothing in Brooklyn and Queens. Since he was experiencing slow speeds and low transmit power on his spectrum analyzer, Milanovic thinks Verizon is in the early stages of testing LTE on its PCS spectrum. There have also been reports that Verizon is starting to refarm PCS spectrum for LTE in Cleveland.

Verizon spokeswoman Debi Lewis told FierceWireless that Verizon has said it will refarm spectrum to deploy LTE in the 1900 MHz band. However, she declined to provide a specific timeline for when the carrier will do so.

Verizon plans to shutter its 2G and 3G CDMA networks by 2021, but hasn't provided firm guidelines or timeframes for that effort.

At the end of the third quarter Verizon said around 79 percent of its total wireless data traffic currently runs on its LTE network, up from 76 percent at the end of the second quarter and 64 percent in the year-ago quarter.

Verizon had more than 17 million 3G smartphones and 20 million feature phones on its network at the end of the third quarter, so while Verizon is pushing more of its customers to LTE devices, it will still need to provide legacy service for millions of customers for several years.

"The deployment of LTE is chewing up spectrum at a faster pace than we expected," wrote BTIG analyst Walter Piecyk. "Verizon confirmed that is has started converting PCS spectrum from 3G to LTE only a year after it tripled the spectrum it allocated to LTE in order to launch XLTE. The increased spectrum usage for LTE comes a year earlier than we expected and leaves Verizon with less than 50 MHz of spectrum to provide voice (which LTE does not yet support) as well as data service to existing 2G and 3G customers. Perhaps this provides some clue as to why the FCC spectrum auction has topped $40 billion and continues to rise."

Other U.S. carriers are in various stages of deploying LTE on PCS spectrum. Sprint's (NYSE: S) primary LTE network, which now covers 260 million POPs, runs on its 1900 MHz spectrum, though Sprint is also augmenting that with 800 MHz LTE for coverage and 2.5 GHz TD-LTE for capacity.

AT&T Mobility (NYSE: T) has started to refarm its PCS spectrum for LTE service in New York City area and other markets, including Baltimore, Dallas, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. However, AT&T is still relying heavily on its 700 MHz LTE network and also plans to deploy LTE on AWS-1 spectrum.

T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) plans to enhance its LTE network coverage footprint over the next year or so using its PCS spectrum. Most of T-Mobile's LTE deployment to date has been based on the company's 1700/2100 MHz AWS-1 spectrum. T-Mobile has also been buying up 700 MHz A Block spectrum to enhance its coverage footprint. T-Mobile primarily plans to use 1900 MHz LTE in rural areas where it does not have GSM coverage today.

For more:
- see this BTIG post
- see this GigaOM article

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