Re-rationalizing the 2.6GHz band

The BRS/EBS band went through one overhaul in the mid/late 2000s decade. But it seems like it needs another overhaul to deal with the current LTE realities.

Currently, the spectrum is divided into 5.5MHz, 6MHz and 4MHz blocks. The usable spectrum is from 2495MHz to 2690MHz. Not very clean and uniform. Its licensed on both BTAs (basic trading areas, of which there are 487 of them) and 35-mile radius geographic service areas (not something my database knows how to deal with, unfortunately).

I would license them more uniformly, using CMAs or cellular market areas (of which there are 734 of them), but with a uniform block size of 10MHz chunks. I would divide the spectrum into two parts – a middle band that is for TDD technologies (TD-LTE), and on either side FDD technologies (FD-LTE, what all carriers use today). The band plan would start at 2495MHz with four 10MHz uplink blocks, a 5MHz guard band, five 20MHz TDD blocks, another 5MHz guard band, and finally the other four 10MHz downlink blocks paired with the uplink blocks.

2.5ghz reband

Dealing with current licenses is what makes this tricky, if not impossible. Pending the Sprint/Clearwire merger, I’d venture to say that Sprint controlling nearly the entire 190MHz (they average 160MHz in major metro areas), I’d say that its time for them to divest some of those holdings (or terminate the leases or however they hold the spectrum). I really don’t see a use case for more than 100MHz for Sprint even in the next 10 years. There is a limit of 40-50MHz before the radios would consume too much power for use in a cell phone (thats not to say that in the aggregate, all the phones on the network couldn’t use it; they would just choose which 40MHz to broadcast in). In markets where they hold more than 100MHz of spectrum (most large ones), I’d simply give them the 100MHz TDD block. The remaining TDD and other FDD blocks would be auctioned or given to current non-Clearwire owners.

(what follows is a bit of a rant on spectrum ownership and usefulness for the average citizen)

Sprint owning most of the 2.6GHz band is a good strategic position for them, but the main goal for the FCC is (or should be) that the spectrum is being used in the best interests of the people. And I don’t think Sprint sitting on most of the spectrum, letting it go unused, is in the interest of the people of the United States. If they hold 190MHz of spectrum in a market, and they only plan on using 40MHz or even 100MHz over the next 5-10 years, then its time to give up enough of the spectrum so other companies can make use of it, and provide a more competitive marketplace for customers.

I look at the AWS-1 band – the only companies that really use it right now are 1) small/rural carriers and 2) T-Mobile (3G/HSPA+, LTE in 2013). The other major owners of AWS-1 spectrum – AT&T, Verizon and until recently the cable companies – don’t use it at all (some cable companies like Cox did launch a cellular company, but their 3G data service was provided by Sprint’s network, and their AWS-1 spectrum was unused since they never launched LTE before selling the spectrum). So from 2008 to today, large parts of the AWS-1 block have laid fallow. Verizon will likely build out their auxiliary LTE network (for metro areas) on their AWS-1 spectrum, but even that isn’t likely to begin until 2014 since it will likely be an LTE-Advanced network with 20MHz uplink/downlink channels where available (NYC, LA, etc). So the spectrum will likely lie fallow for a total of 7 years (2008-2015, when the first build-out requirements pass for Verizon) before its put to good use. A cautionary tale of letting companies buy and then sit on spectrum for competitive advantage. Exhibit 2: Verizon owning lower 700MHz “B” block licenses in major metro areas (LA, Chicago, Miami) and not doing anything with them. Likely, they’ll be sold to AT&T at the last minute and AT&T would expand their LTE from 5+5 to 10+10 (much to the pleasure of the residents of these cities). Again, sitting on spectrum for competitive advantage is a negative for the consumer. Build-out requirements are helpful in this, but four years is still a long time for carriers to sit on spectrum that could otherwise be used.

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