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Three Big US Operators Forge Spectrum-Sharing Pact

Daily Insight | Rich Karpinski | February 1, 2013

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It’s rare to hear that AT&T, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile have come to an agreement about spectrum sharing, but it appears the Department of Defense was the missing link. They have forged a pact to explore the possibility of sharing 95 MHz of spectrum currently used by federal agencies.

 

Fierce Wireless is reporting that the spectrum is located in the 1755-1850 MHz band and seems to go along with the FCC’s push to encourage spectrum sharing between commercial and government users. Notably, Sprint was left out of the pact, though a spokesman said that the company is very interested to see the results of the program. In the next few months, the carriers and the DoD will test the spectrum to determine whether or not it can be shared without disruption.

 

Yankee Group Senior Analyst Rich Karpinski comments

 

“U.S. mobile operators would like nothing more than for the government to clear up and auction off the spectrum in question—even in announcing this testing, AT&T executives emphasized it believes a sell-off would be the ‘best approach’ moving forward. However, the estimated cost of moving current users off those airwaves—some U.S.$18 billion, according to government estimates—has led the Department of Defense and other government agencies to push for a spectrum sharing solution instead. Today’s agreement represents a compromise of sorts, with the parties affected agreeing to assess the viability of and uncover any potential problems spectrum sharing might cause. 

 

The challenge with sharing cuts both ways. The government must ensure that often national security-critical uses—such as satellite command and control and air combat training, as cited in the announcement—continue to be supported unabated, while allowing commercial enterprises to ‘dip into’ the spectrum as needed to serve their customers. For mobile operators, it will be important to assess whether such spectrum sharing not only works technically but makes business sense as well in helping meet the need for additional mobile broadband capacity. The bands in question for the test, 1755-1850 MHz, are particularly attractive to U.S. mobile operators because they sit directly next to the commercially-used AWS bands and represent the last block of federal airwaves below 3 GHz. The parties are to be applauded for pursuing an innovative solution, but must be diligent to assess not just the technical success but also the competitive impact of the test results and how government and industry ultimately move forward with these airwaves.”

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