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Spectrum Blog

PCS H and 3.5GHz FCC Rulemaking Tue, Dec 18, 2012

The FCC released their rulemakings today for the PCS H Auction and the Small Cell 3.5GHz spectrum.  In keeping with with my company's mission statement "Explaining the Wireless Industry from a Carrier Mindset", I will be evaluating and commenting on both of those FCC documents by the end of the week.

Why Couldn't Clearwire Sell Their Spectrum? Tue, Dec 18, 2012

Another area of interest from the Sprint / Clearwire conference call yesterday were Erik Prusch's comments related to Clearwire's attempts to sell spectrum in 2010.  Erik indicated that the offers they received were below value.

I will be conducting a webinar for GLG Research on January 4, 2013 where I will be discussing the history and challenges of Educational Broadcast Service (EBS) and Broadband Radio Service (BRS) spectrum.  I believe that the undervalue offers were due to issues with the spectrum channelization, geographic boundaries, unlicensed channels, and FCC mandated obligations for leased spectrum.

Sprint Purchase of Clearwire Tue, Dec 18, 2012

Inevitable.  If you have followed the Sprint/Clearwire saga since they were joined with Google, Time Warner, Brighthouse, Comcast, and Intel; it was obvious that Clearwire had a hard road ahead.  In yesterday's announcement Erik Prusch indicated the depth of the internal concern; Clearwire had retained an advisor to provide options for restructuring.

Once the carrier consolidation of 2012 occurred, the only path forward I saw for Clearwire was funding minimal operations into the 2014 time frame, with a hope that the other 3 national players would finally need the wholesale access to Clearwire's spectrum. With each of the national players, except Sprint, lining up their LTE capacity growth spectrum, the need for wholesale access to Clearwire's WiMax or planned TDD-LTE network was unnecessary.  Clearly Sprint needed Clearwire for its LTE growth spectrum and at $0.21/MHzPOP I believe we will look back 5 years from now and view this was steal.  Not only has Sprint put in concrete their LTE capacity growth, but they have cornered the market available spectrum for years to come.  When you consider that Clearwire controlled 160MHz of spectrum which could be expanded to nearly 200MHz in most metro areas with additional spectrum leasing and spectrum purchases, Sprint has the only meaninful swatch of "new" spectrum that will come to market in the next 5 years.

I don't see the Broadband Incentive auction, the Dish spectrum, or the recent 3.5GHz spectrum as meaningful for efficient macro network coverage.  Those subjects are covered in other blogs.

The purchase of Clearwire does not guarantee smooth sailing for Sprint.  Sprint still has very significant short term issues.  Their LTE network is 5X5 which is the smallest of any of the national carriers.  In addition, their customers with WiMax devices will continue to transition over to this network as they upgrade their devices.  Clearwire's TDD-LTE hotspot network is only at the construction start stage, with likely very limited coverage throughout 2013. Clearwire has talked historically about devices arriving for this network 2Q or 3Q 2013.  Thus, there won't be any material movement of traffic from Sprint 3G or LTE network until early 2014.  From what I experience on my Sprint Samsung S3, the 3G network is already challenged and LTE is not available in my market (Seattle).  It will get worse before it gets better.

AT&T Carrier Aggregation - Band 5 and Band 17 Fri, Dec 14, 2012

Posted during the 3GPP RAN Meeting on Dec 4-7, 2012 in Barcelona, Spain.

Customer Requirements for LTE Advanced Carrier Aggregation for Band 5 and Band 17.  This appears to be supporting AT&T's need to aggregate carriers between their 700MHz (Band 17) and the Cellular band (Band 5).  No mention of including the redefined WCS band.  Could this be a sign that AT&T's growth plan for LTE will be to grow into the cellular spectrum first, and then to the WCS spectrum?

Limitations to Clearwire's TDD-LTE Wholesale Model Fri, Dec 14, 2012

When Clearwire first offered wholesale access to its spectrum, it was using the WiMax technology.  It had built this technology in the 2.5GHz band and it was covering up to 80 markets by the end of 2010.  At this time Clearwire provided meaningful WiMax coverage in each of their markets for Sprint, Comcast, Time Warner, and Best Buy to provide their customers 4G Only WiMax devices.  Essentially, Clearwire's WiMax network had broad enough coverage that these operators could selectively offer their customers service in the markets that Clearwire offered WiMax service.

As Clearwire has embarked on the TDD-LTE strategy, their wholesale model has gotten a bit more complex.  First, they continue to sign up relatively small partners for their WiMax wholesale offering:  Simplexity, Freedom Pop, Best Buy, CBeyond, Mitel, NetZero, Locus, and Kajeet.  They have Sprint already signed for Wholesale Access to the forthcoming TDD-LTE network and added Leap to the WiMax partner list early in 2012.

Leap demonstrates the change of direction for wholesale agreements for the TDD-LTE network.  For their TDD-LTE roaming strategy, a roaming partner would need a "thin" LTE network providing coverage in their markets.  They would then roam over to the Clearwire TDD-LTE "hot spots" only for capacity.  Sprint's 5x5MHz FDD-LTE deployment would qualify as a "thin" LTE deployment.  This implicit requirement for a "thin" coverage network, eliminates non-carriers from the TDD-LTE wholesale process since it would be difficult to sell "spots" of coverage across Los Angeles if you didn't have service already over the area.

In addition, the quantity of sites in the Clearwire LTE plan started at 8,000 of their 16,000 sites, was reduced to 5,000 sites and recently has arrived at 2,000 sites.  This has increased the challenge of finding wholesale partners with this very limited coverage.

Clearwire and Dish: Spectrum Hosting Tue, Dec 11, 2012

The idea of Clearwire hosting Dish's AWS2 spectrum seems to be bouncing around the news pages today.  Clearly (no pun intended), Clearwire operates a 4G network that is very similar to Sprint Network Vision concept.  With the necessary zoning and permitting, Clearwire could add this spectrum band with a new set of antennas and tower top base stations.  So, this would get Dish to market after they pass the standard's body requirements for defining the new band, but what does it provide Clearwire.  Different than Sprint, they don't need the spectrum, they need capital to increase the TDD-LTE build out.  I believe that Clearwire would much rather Dish sign up for their wholesale mobile broadband service with an infusion of capital.  My next blog will look at one of the other drawbacks for potential wholesale partners like Dish with Clearwire's TDD-LTE plan.  Check back later in the week.

Dish and Sprint: Spectrum Hosting Mon, Dec 10, 2012

On the surface, a deal to host Dish's spectrum on Sprint's Network Vision platform would make alot of sense.  The chart below highlights that part of Dish's (DI) spectrum is adjacent to the AWS-2 spectrum that recently has been referred to as the PCS H spectrum.  Sprint is interested in acquiring this spectrum to increase their LTE channel size from 5x5 FDD-LTE to 10x10 FDD-LTE. Unfortunately, the Dish spectrum is configured where the uplink (from the handset to the cell site) would be adjacent to Sprint's LTE downlink (cell site to handset).  This will be problematic for Dish. Cell sites transmit at much higher power than handset signals are received.  Expensive filters on the separate Dish antennas may not be enough to allow the Dish antennas to be installed in the same plane (level) as the Sprint antennas.

You can look at this as being similar to the Lightsquared deal, except Lightsquared was planned into the deployment through the zoning and permitting process.  With the standards body processes that are in front of Dish, it would still be years before equipment is installed and a network operating on Sprint's towers.    A Dish MVNO to operate on Sprint's 3G Voice and LTE network would allow Dish to get a wireless product to market quickly.



T-Mobile (Deutsche Telekom Capital Markets Day 2012) Fri, Dec 07, 2012

There were several interesting details that came out of the Deutsche Telekom Capital Markets Day 2012.  The primary announcement concerned T-Mobile USA being blessed with the ability to sell the iPhone.  T-Mobile's new CEO, John Legere indicated that it will have a dramatically different experience than the other iPhone on the market.  In addition T-Mobile will sell it unsubsidized, although they will offer financing plans.  This should continue to drive T-Mobile's Cost Per Gross Add (CPGA) down, although they didn't disclose if this only affects their iPhone retail business or potentially all of their retail.  This is a dramatic step which eliminate the primary issue that I have had with the subsidy pricing model.  I have a problem with paying the same monthly rate for my smartphone if I am out of contract as the guy that who just got a new device.  With T-Mobile's plan the true cost of upgrading will be carried by the customer, with the expectation of lower monthly rates.



Above is a restatement of the testing data from PC Magazine which T-Mobile released.  It is interesting to note how far their speeds have fallen from their early announcements in late 2010 concerning the HSPA+ network.  It is also worth noting that they compared AT&T's LTE network.  You can again see the loading effect on the network.  AT&T's Chicago network was launched September 2011 so it has been loading for over a year reflecting the slower speeds.  AT&T's complete New York and San Francisco networks are much newer, launching September 2012, thus carrying less traffic.  I am curious why T-Mobile did not chose to compare themselves to AT&T's 4G (HSPA+) network.

From a LTE network build perspective, this was the first time I have heard clearly that T-Mobile is deploying tower top electronics.  It is interesting that they state that they are the first carrier in North America to broadly deploy radio-integrated antennas.  Clearwire was the first carrier to deploy tower top base stations, followed by Sprint with their Network Vision project.  T-Mobile is playing up the fact that their radios are some how integrated into the antenna.  Not really an earth shattering announcement.  From a technology perspective, deploying the tower top base stations will fill in coverage holes and improve data speeds so it is a good move.  In addition, these base stations will be Release 10 capable, meaning a software update will move these radio from the LTE features to the  LTE Advance features.

The Numbers:

  • Current 4G Network covers 225 million POPs
  • Release 10 Equipment being deployed to 37,000 cell sites
  • T-Mobile and MetroPCS:  Migration not Integration
  • With MetroPCS Spectrum Position across Top 25 service areas is improved by 21%
  • Planning to shutdown 10,000 macro sites from MetroPCS
  • Retain and integrate 1,000 MetroPCS sites
  • Operating MetroPCS Markets
    • San Francisco 
    • Detroit
    • Boston
    • New York
    • Dallas
    • Atlanta
    • Florida (except panhandle)
  • MetroPCS brand will increase coverage from 105MPOPs to more than 280MPOPs.

What is wrong with Spectrum Pricing? Tue, Dec 04, 2012

Clearly the wireless industry has locked in spectrum pricing with the MHz-POP pricing model, but is this the right way to look at it as we move into a 4G World where data throughput and capacity are key?  For those that aren't familiar, the typical value of spectrum is determined by the $/MHzPOP which is the dollars spent for the spectrum divided by the total amount of spectrum times population that spectrum covers.  This model falls short now as carriers are interested in acquiring larger contiguous blocks of spectrum enabling higher users speeds and more capacity.

To use a real estate analogue, a large plot of land is much for flexible for multiple uses, than two plots, even if they are in the same neighborhood.  In real estate, the developer that is able to consolidate several tracks of land into a larger development is rewarded as he sells the larger development.

In the wireless industry, we continue to price based upon the $/MHz POP basis, even as carriers such as T-Mobile and Clearwire have combined adjacent channels to create larger bands of spectrum to utilize in larger LTE channels.  T-Mobile has worked this year with Verizon, SpectrumCo, and MetroPCS which will allow it to assimilate a 2X20MHz LTE channel on a national basis.  Clearwire has leased and purchased operators in the BRS and EBS spectrum bands providing it with an average of 160MHz of spectrum in the top markets.  Since Clearwire's spectrum has many geographical boundaries, it is difficult to say how many 20MHz channels they could support across each of their markets, but they have been successful consolidating small bands of spectrum into larger more flexible spectrum bands.

How does a larger band of spectrum affect the wireless carriers?  In the US, carriers have deployed FDD-LTE in 1.25MHz channels, 5MHz channels, and 10MHz channels.  As you increase the channel size throughput performance improves because a lower percentage of the data packets are dedicated to overhead activities   Qualcomm has provided achievable LTE Peak Data Rates for different channel bandwidths based upon whether the antennas are 2x2 or 4x4 MIMO.

Link to Qualcomm Document



As you can see in the 4x4 MIMO downlink case, the throughput is 12Mbps greater in the 20MHz channel than the composite of 4-5MHz channels.

So if a  20MHz channel is 4% more efficient than 4 - 5MHz channels should the MHz POPs pricing adjust accordingly?

By the way.. I am going to look for more source data on the capacity improvements for wider channels, a 4% improvement would seem to be relatively negligible.  I recall hearing 30% improvements in capacity when a channel size is doubled, but I haven't been able to re-source that data for this blog.   More to come.

Webcast: Spectrum Update - Broadcast and Whitespace Auctions Wed, Nov 28, 2012


Below is a link to an Investor's Presentation provided by AllNet Labs on the upcoming Broadcast Incentive Auctions and Whitespace Spectrum.

Audio and Slide Presentation

Download Presentation

Presentation Outline

Agenda

  • ›       Current FCC Status
  • ›       Preliminary Plan
  • ›       Primary Participants
  • ›       Devices
  • ›       Preliminary Spectrum Availability


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