T-Mobile aims to scoop up more 700 MHz spectrum for LTE deployments

T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) has been hunting for yet more 700 MHz spectrum to augment its LTE coverage and capacity, with the carrier quietly making several deals for airwaves with small license holders over the past several weeks.

Click here for a larger version of this image from AllNet Labs, which shows T-Mobile's recent and pending 700 MHz A-Block spectrum purchases across the country.

According to filings made with the FCC, over the past several weeks T-Mobile has struck spectrum-acquisition deals with BEK Communications Cooperative, Dakota Central Telecommunications Cooperative, Big Wave Ventures and Vulcan Wireless.

Over the summer and through the early fall, T-Mobile disclosed deals with smaller A-Block spectrum license holders that cover a little under 18 million POPs. T-Mobile is using the spectrum as one of three bands it is deploying for LTE, along with 1700 MHz AWS spectrum and 1900 MHz PCS airwaves. Through the end of September, T-Mobile had revealed A-Block deals that covered around 15.88 million POPs.

In all of the filings, T-Mobile argues that the deals are in the public interest because they will enable it to expand capacity and mobile broadband services. T-Mobile also argues there will be no loss of an existing service providers in any of the market areas because the entities it is buying the spectrum from are not providing service to customers.

In the case of the BEK deal, T-Mobile is not actually buying 700 MHz A-Block spectrum but rather an assortment of licenses, all covering either Bismark or Kidder, N.D. T-Mobile is looking to buy from BEK two 700 MHz C-Block licenses, one 700 MHz B-Block licenses, two AWS licenses and one PCS license. AT&T Mobility (NYSE: T) has been using a mixture of B- and C-Block licenses for its main LTE deployment. In a related move, the Dakota Central deal involves a single AWS license covering Kidder, N.D.

The deal with Big Wave, which is backed by Phoenix-based Smartcomm, covers two A-Block licenses, one in Wheeling, W.Va., and one in Lubbock, Texas. Smartcomm holds 700 MHz and 800 MHz licenses in Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.

The transaction with Vulcan likely covers larger population centers and includes a license covering the Seattle-Tacoma-Bremerton area in Washington and the Portland-Salem area in Oregon. Vulcan is a 700 MHz licensee owned by Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) co-founder Paul Allen.

As of the end of the third quarter, T-Mobile owned or had agreements to own 700 MHz A-Block spectrum covering 176 million POPs, or around 55 percent of the U.S. population. The spectrum covers more than 70 percent of the company's existing customer base.

T-Mobile's first 700 MHz sites are already on air, and several Band Class 12-capable handsets are available in the market, including the Samsung Galaxy Note 4. T-Mobile said it will continue to aggressively deploy 700 MHz sites and that more Band 12-capable handsets will become available in the rest of 2014 and first half of 2015. More than half of the markets covered by the company's A-Block spectrum are free and clear and ready to be deployed, though the remaining markets are encumbered by Channel 51 broadcasts, generally limiting T-Mobile's ability to use the spectrum until after the incumbent broadcasters are relocated. However, the company has already entered into agreements to relocate broadcasters to new frequencies in six markets covering more than 17 million POPs, making those markets available for launch in 2015.

For more:
- see this T-Mobile/BEK filing
- see this T-Mobile/Dakota Central filing
- see this T-Mobile/Big Wave filing
- see this T-Mobile/Vulcan filing

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