If you have been wondering why T-Mobile, the fastest-growing major U.S. carrier, wants to merge with a company that is struggling like Sprint, we can tell you that it has nothing to do with Sprint's business prospects. The deal is all about the hoard of 2.5GHz mid-band spectrum that Sprint has and T-Mobile wants. The latter is looking to complete the first nationwide 5G network next year using a combination of its 600MHz low-band spectrum, its ultra-high mmWave spectrum, and Sprint's mid-band airwaves.
Low-band signals travel farther and penetrate buildings better while the mmWave signals offer faster data speeds and handle larger amounts of traffic. Mid-band spectrum has its attributes too including wide coverage and low latency. But there is a shortage of mid-band airwaves which is why T-Mobile has been so focused on merging with Sprint. Whether or not the deal goes through, there is a possibility that the FCC will auction off some more mid-band spectrum.
Several U.S. carriers ask the FCC to auction off 280MHz of mid-band spectrum
According to Fierce Wireless, U.S. Cellular President and CEO Ken Meyers says that it is "critical" for U.S. carriers to obtain as much mid-band spectrum as they can find. The executive says that action needs to be taken immediately to ensure that there is enough mid-band spectrum to go around. To this end, U.S. Cellular has signed a letter along with Verizon, AT&T, Bluegrass Cellular, Pine Belt Wireless and the C-Band Alliance. Sent electronically to the FCC, the letter requests that the agency auction off terrestrial rights to C-Band spectrum in the 3.7GHz to 4.2GHz range. While those who signed the letter don't agree on how the airwaves should be auctioned off, the letter states that "there is strong consensus that all potential, qualified bidders should be welcome to participate and have clarity on the rules and procedures that will govern the sales and licensing process."
The group that signed the letter wants 280MHz of interoperable spectrum sliced up into 20MHz blocks. Transparency would be key with no sealed bids allowed during the auction. U.S. Cellular's Meyers hopes that such an auction can take place this year. The CEO says, "Anything that gets us there is something that we’ll support...I really don’t care how we do it, I think it’s just critical to get it and get it soon." U.S. Cellular is believed to have access to the funds it would need to buy more mid-band spectrum.
Speaking about money, Republican Senator John Kennedy spoke on the phone with President Donald Trump about the C-Band auction and even sent him a tweet. Senator Kennedy said that an FCC auction of mid-band spectrum could raise as much as $80 billion for the U.S. while pointing out that some FCC commissioners want to give away the airwaves to three satellite firms for free. FCC chairman Ajit Pai, a Trump appointee, has said that he would like the C-Band issue to be discussed by the regulatory agency this fall. Since it isn't on the agenda for the next meeting to be held on November 19th, it will have to be part of the December 12th meeting.
Since mid-band spectrum is needed by many wireless providers in the U.S., what happens regarding the possible auction of the 3.7GHz-4.2GHz spectrum is very important. 5G is the next generation of wireless connectivity and delivers download data speeds 10 times faster than 4G LTE signals. Not only will it allow users to download full-length HD movies in the blink of an eye, but it also will lead to the creation of new industries and businesses. The countries that are first to harness the speed of 5G will get a huge economic boost and this is why it is so important to U.S. lawmakers that enough mid-band spectrum is made available to U.S. carriers.