In Business Model, Internet Access, Mobile, Spectrum

Spectrum scarcity long has been a key assumption of mobile or fixed wireless service provider business models. But scarcity is diminishing. Over the next few years, it is likely that mobile operator spectrum will grow substantially. The only issue is whether the available spectrum will triple, or grow 10 times or more. Consider the U.S. market, where two millimeter wave auctions might recently have boosted AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile US spectrum by double to triple.

The next auction will release as much as 3400 MHz of additional spectrum.

And the impact those allocations will have on mobile operator capacity are unprecedented. Consider that the leading four U.S. mobile providers have operated with 100 MHz to 180 MHz of spectrum assets in the 4G era. But all the allocated mobile spectrum has totaled less than 1,000 MHz.

But the latest FCC auctions of 28-GHz (auction 101) spectrum represented an additional 850 MHz of new spectrum. The latest auction of 24-GHz (auction 102) spectrum added another 700 MHz of capacity.

The next auction (auction 103) of 37 GHz, 39 GHz and 47 GHz spectrum will release 3400 MHz of new spectrum, in addition to the 1550 MHz released in auctions 101 and 102.

If Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile US won just 300 MHz each of new spectrum on a national basis in auctions 101 and 102, that would double to triple the total amount of licensed spectrum each has to work with. And auction 103 is coming.

Here’s what spectrum holdings for major mobile networks and Dish Network looked like, before the latest millimeter wave auctions.  

source: Wells Fargo Securities

But that is not the only effective change in bandwidth potential. Small cell architectures, spectrum aggregation, spectrum sharing and dynamic spectrum sharing, plus better radios, all will effectively increase the use of whatever spectrum assets are available.

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