his year’s auction of AWS-3 spectrum—mid-band stuff that’s good for filling out metropolitan LTE networks—brought in $44.9 billion, mostly from three companies: AT&T, Dish, and Verizon.
We commissioned data visualization experts Mosaik Solutions to show us where the three players will be beefing up their networks.
AT&T spent more than $18 billion to obtain AWS-3 spectrum in almost all of the nation’s major cities. AT&T is currently behind T-Mobile and Verizon in terms of establishing a fast 20MHz “wideband” LTE network in places like the crowded Northeast, and it has already said it’ll use its new nearly nationwide, solid 10MHz-by-10MHz block of AWS-3 spectrum specifically to increase download speeds.
Verizon appears to be relatively comfortable in its current spectrum layout. The company’s XLTE system, which runs primarily on AWS spectrum that’s very similar to this spectrum, is the nation’s fastest, and the company has enough spectrum to do dual 20MHz channels in most U.S. cities. So Verizon didn’t take an opportunity to beef up its position in many of its core Eastern markets, although its new licenses cover about 60 percent of the country.
What’s Up With Dish?
Dish Networks is now hoarding a huge amount of spectrum that it has yet to use. The company spent more than $13 billion on a nationwide swathe of spectrum, backed by shadowy private-equity partners that have shown no interest in providing cell phone service to anyone. That includes more than $3 billion for three licenses in the New York City area.
Dish placed its bids through two small-business fronts, taking advantage of a 25 percent “bidding credit” for supposed small businesses. It also mostly purchased spectrum designed primarily for uploads, rather than downloads.
Dish’s AWS-3 spectrum adds to chunks of older spectrum in the 700MHz, AWS-4 and PCS bands, and The Wall Street Journal says that the company needs to build out at least some of it by 2016 or incur penalties. Those kinds of deadlines have been extended in the past, though.
Fierce Wireless editor Phil Goldstein noted that Dish is now one of the nation’s top five spectrum licensees, and ran down its full spectrum holdings and various theories of what Dish might do.
Wireless analyst Tim Farrar, meanwhile, analyzed Dish’s bids, and said that the company established a “a blocking position in key cities (including New York and Chicago) in an attempt to force other operators to make a deal,” with the end game being an attempt to sell Dish to Verizon.
If that’s the case, then the FCC’s attempts to use this auction to expand wireless competition will all be for nought, as almost all of the AWS-3 spectrum will be held by the top two carriers. The next chance to get fresh spectrum will be at the 600MHz “incentive auction,” to be held in early 2016.