Verizon: T-Mobile needs low-band spectrum 'desperately'

Nicola Palmer, Verizon's chief network officer. (Verizon)

Verizon said it sat out of the FCC’s incentive auction because it had little use for any more low-band spectrum. And it said T-Mobile “desperately” needed the 600 MHz airwaves.

The nation’s largest mobile network operator surprised many industry insiders when it opted to spend nothing in the auction that wrapped up last month. T-Mobile, meanwhile, was the top bidder, agreeing to pony up nearly $8 billion to add to its portfolio of low-band airwaves. (AT&T committed to spend only $910 million, and Sprint sat out the auction from the outset.)

“We have strong spectrum holdings in the 700, 850, 1900 megahertz (MHz)/PCS, AWS 1 and 3 spectrum bands. So why didn’t we bid on the 600 MHz spectrum? We simply didn’t need it,” wrote Nicola Palmer, Verizon’s chief network architect, on the company’s website.

Palmer touted Verizon’s deployment of new LTE offerings including carrier aggregation, 4x4 MIMO and 256 QAM—all of which are components of the "LTE Advanced" set of standards—and said the carrier is focused on mid-band and millimeter-wave spectrum as it prepares for 5G. She also took a swipe at T-Mobile’s spectrum holdings.

“Our competitor spent $8 billion for 600 MHz spectrum to finally acquire a national low-band spectrum position,” she wrote. “They need it, desperately. And while they continue to play catch-up in 4G, we’ve had the largest national LTE Advanced footprint on 700 MHz spectrum for seven years, and it keeps getting better.”

Palmer also said 600 MHz airwaves are “only good in the U.S. and not globally,” and will “take some time to figure out and deploy widely” as TV broadcasters move off the spectrum onto new channels.

T-Mobile bought 31 MHz of spectrum in the FCC’s incentive auction of 600 MHz airwaves, quadrupling its low-band holdings. It won 45% of the spectrum sold during the event, and it expects at least 10 MHz covering more than 1 million square miles will be clear in 2017. The carrier once again said it will begin to deploy service on the spectrum later this year, and handsets will come to market in time for the 2017 holiday season.

“We’ve obviously been seeding the ecosystem with radio equipment, chipsets and (CEO) John (Legere) referenced in his opening comments we can now—we’re delighted to announce we’ll have 600 MHz handsets within the year,” T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray said last week during the carrier’s first-quarter earnings call, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript. “I think that’s a huge surprise for most folks out there that not only (can we) clear spectrum, build spectrum, launch spectrum, (but) that we can get our customers starting to use the spectrum inside 2017.”