Why it issues: For these preserving observe, AT&T, Verizon and T-Cell have been jockeying for place within the 5G world, based on the spectrum holdings they’ve entry to in what’s known as mid-band frequencies. Here is a recap on who’s main that race and why we’ve got but to benefit from the long-awaited advantages of 5G.

Whereas a lot of the current protection of 5G within the US has understandably been centered on the C-Band fiasco that the FAA and airline business are unfairly foisting onto the mobile business, one other massive bit of stories hit late final week. (Facet notice: for those who’re in search of a backgrounder across the problems with the C-Band connection and airline security, take a look at this column I wrote for USA At this time final November).

Final Friday, the FCC introduced the outcomes of one other radio frequency (RF) spectrum public sale for mobile networks, technically known as Public sale 110, that abruptly shifted the stability of potential energy throughout the large US telco networks as soon as once more.

For these preserving observe, AT&T, Verizon and T-Cell have been jockeying for place within the 5G world, based on the spectrum holdings they’ve entry to in what’s known as mid-band frequencies (primarily between about 2.5 and 4 GHz). As we’ve discovered, these mid-band frequencies are important for delivering on 5G’s promise of quicker speeds, decrease latency, and higher protection. Actually, they’re so vital, that every one the 5G networks world wide, besides the US, are based mostly round mid-band RF spectrum.

Sadly, when 5G networks have been first being designed and deliberate for within the US, these frequencies weren’t out there, as a result of they have been being utilized by different industries and purposes, together with massive satellite tv for pc TV dishes and military/defense functions.

All that modified over the previous couple of years, nonetheless, because the FCC began to reclaim this spectrum and reallocate it for 5G utilization. Because of this, there have been enormous, expensive efforts to amass entry rights to those frequencies. The spectrum-grab started again in April of 2018 when T-Cell announced its intentions to buy Dash, primarily so it might get entry to about 160 MHz of RF spectrum, beginning at 2.5 GHz, that Dash had beforehand acquired.

Then, in 2020, the FCC’s C-Band auctions generated a document $81 billion {dollars} to get access to 280 MHz of spectrum from 3.7-3.98 GHz. The massive winner there was Verizon. It received 60 MHz of the primary 100 MHz to be deployed (known as the A Block and the half that it turned on in over 46 markets yesterday) and between 80 to 140 MHz of the subsequent chunk (known as B Block), which is anticipated to be turned on someday in late 2023. AT&T received about 100 MHz whole (40 MHz within the A Block, which the corporate turned on in eight metro markets yesterday, and 60 MHz within the B Block).

T-Cell additionally picked up about 30 MHz within the B Block of the C-Band Public sale to spherical out its holdings. To be utterly correct, the numbers differ by metro market as a result of licenses are offered by market—and there are over 100 of them—however these numbers are tough nationwide averages.

On this newest Public sale 110 nonetheless, which coated frequencies from 3.45 to three.55 GHz, the large winner was AT&T, with up-and-comer Dish Networks coming in second and T-Cell selecting up a bit extra as nicely. Whereas the official last particulars of what was bought and the way it is going to be used can’t be revealed till January 31, it’s been reported by PC Journal (see “AT&T, Dish Win Big in Latest 5G Auction”) that AT&T acquired 40 MHz in most markets and Dish acquired between 30-40 MHz in lots of markets. As soon as once more, T-Cell additionally picked up some—supposedly as much as 20 MHz within the prime 12 markets—and some smaller carriers, comparable to US Mobile, acquired some as nicely. Verizon, nonetheless, didn’t take part or achieve any new spectrum in any respect.

Because of this, whenever you begin to do some tough math on these spectrum holdings, the large lead that T-Cell at the moment has over AT&T (and that Verizon’s holdings will enable them to atone for) begins to get a bit smaller. Plus, not like the B Block of the C-Band Public sale, this new spectrum might be turned on for service this yr. Which means, for instance, that AT&T might theoretically activate 80 MHz of mid-band spectrum this yr, whereas Verizon could be restricted to 60 MHz.

T-Cell nonetheless has the benefit, however in lots of markets, they’ve solely turned on 100 MHz of their whole capability. On prime of that, Dish Networks might leverage this new spectrum and use some extra spectrum it acquired by way of the CBRS Public sale (one more chunk of mid-band frequencies that’s anticipated for use primarily for personal networks—see my column “CBRS Vs. C-Band: Making Sense Of Mid-Band 5G” for extra) and develop into a viable fourth various in a lot of locations.

In fact, there’s way more to community protection and speeds than simply spectrum—numerous important community applied sciences can be utilized to optimize a given set of spectra extra effectively than one other—however it actually serves as proxy for a way to consider issues.

In different phrases, what initially seemed like a little bit of a lop-sided market when it comes to mid-band 5G firepower within the US is now trying to be way more aggressive. That’s sure to be an enormous win for shoppers and companies who wish to make the most of the various advantages {that a} mid-band powered 5G community can allow, as competitors at this stage is sure to drive higher providers and extra enticing pricing.

Now, if folks might simply get again to trusting science and we might transfer past this complete unhappy FAA fiasco, I believe we will actually begin to benefit from the long-awaited benefits of 5G. Clearly, the perfect is but to come back.

Bob O’Donnell is the founder and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a expertise consulting agency that gives strategic consulting and market analysis providers to the expertise business {and professional} monetary group. You possibly can comply with him on Twitter @bobodtech.


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