AT&T's Low Band 5G | 700MHz or Cellular May 9, 2019 22:35
Late last year, AT&T began to discuss refarming their low-band spectrum for 5G, but they didn't indicate which of their low band spectrum blocks would be used. With some spectrum acquisitions that have been filed over the last 6 months, I believe their plans are becoming more clear. The 3 blocks of low band spectrum that AT&T controls are 700MHz (A,B, and C channels), 700MHz (FirstNet), and the Cellular (A & B channels). I am going to assume that the FirstNet spectrum is not being considered since it must support public safety networks, leaving the 700MHz and Cellular bands for refarming. The first indicator, was AT&T's acquisition of FBS 700's spectrum in South Dakota and their acquisition of part of C Spire's 700MHz spectrum in the southeast.
To see AT&T's total 700MHz spectrum, we used Allnet Insights' Mobile Carrier - Spectrum Ownership Analysis Tool to total AT&T's ownership of the 700MHz A, B, and C channels in each US county. In the counties where they own all three channels, they could deploy a 15MHz 5G channel. From the map below, it appears that AT&T would cover most of the US with a 10MHz 5G channel.
The next map highlights the counties where AT&T controls both cellular channels (A & B). In the limited markets where they control both channels (Texas and Florida), they could have a 5G channel size of 20MHz, but for most of the country that would be limited to a 10MHz 5G channel size. It is important to remember that the areas where AT&T doesn't control any cellular spectrum the bands are controlled by USCellular and/or Verizon, making cellular spectrum acquisitions unlikely.
Another important way to evaluate the usefulness of each band is to measure the amount of population that can be reach with the licenses in each band. To evaluate this we used the Licensed POPs Analysis Module from the Mobile Carrier - Spectrum Ownership Analysis Tool. Since AT&T's 700MHz spectrum covers 44 million addition people compared to AT&T's Cellular spectrum, I believe that AT&T is planning to utilize their 700MHz spectrum for their upcoming Low Band 5G deployments. This appears to be confirmed by AT&T's recent acquisitions.