In Business Model, Internet Access, Spectrum

“Spectrum is real estate,” many are fond of noting. At least, it always has been in the licensed framework.

Unlicensed spectrum is different. It remains an essential resource, but is not real estate, as their are no ownership rights, and no way to maintain scarcity value as does real estate in a dense urban area.

So spectrum might be in some sense a commodity, but it is a complex commodity, shaped by supply and demand as is any other asset.

Still, it might increasingly be true that real estate value is affected by Airbnb and other ways of bringing unused assets to market. And that is why shared spectrum, bonding of unlicensed and licensed spectrum, as well as additional allocations of spectrum, inevitably will affect the value of spectrum as real estate. In other words, if supply increases, prices should fall.

“We believe DISH’s spectrum portfolio is progressively devaluing as the industry embraces low-cost, unlicensed and shared spectrum, namely, the 3.5 GHz spectrum band, to solve metro density challenges,” argues consultant Alan Weissberger.

Weissberger believes the 150 MHz of shared 3.5 GHz spectrum will be a “game changer.” That spectrum also should be commercially available earlier than new spectrum from the 600-MHz auctions.

“We expect this trend to shift meaningfully the spectrum supply curve, leading to a devaluation of DISH spectrum value,” he says. “DISH has assembled a potentially solid spectrum position, but the market values this spectrum too highly today.”

The U.S. mobile industry increasingly is relying on small cells and architecture–rather than relying on additional new spectrum, especially as perhaps 80 percent of customer data consumption happens in non-mobile situations suitable for use of Wi-Fi or small cell access.

The industry also increasingly is relying on unlicensed spectrum for access.

In the past, some have estimated that spectrum value is as much as 80 percent of the value of Dish Network. While that might have been too optimistic, it likely is the case that value–while still high–is falling. That would be in line with spectrum pricing in other recent transactions.  

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