AWS band finally spreading its wings
Eighteen months after the close of Auction 66, operators have begun aggressive network rollouts in the first new mobile spectrum band since PCS. Leap Wireless, MetroPCS and T-Mobile all have launched networks over the Advanced Wireless Services 1.7 and 2.1 GHz frequencies in individual markets, and even bigger rollout plans are on the horizon.
T-Mobile turned on its first 3G network in New York on May 5, but it promises more launches, culminating with an expected 20 to 25 markets by the end of the year and eventual nationwide coverage by 2010. Leap Wireless and MetroPCS both built AWS CDMA networks in Las Vegas, and Leap has turned up Oklahoma City and south Texas to boot. Their plans become only more ambitious: Collectively they'll build networks covering a combined 80 million total population by the end of 2010, almost doubling their respective footprints.
Perhaps the most notable AWS networks, however, are the ones that have not been built. Both AT&T and Verizon Wireless landed prime spectrum in Auction 66, but neither has announced any plans on how they plan to use it. When Verizon Wireless first announced its long-term evolution (LTE) plans last year, it identified AWS as a possible band for the new 4G technology. But since then Verizon has picked up virtual nationwide coverage in the 700 MHz band, making it a prime location for any new network build. AT&T has similarly tapped LTE as a 4G technology and also picked up nationwide 700 MHz spectrum through its purchase of Aloha Partners and at auction.
Neither AT&T nor Verizon has the same pressing needs that Leap, Metro and T-Mobile do. They don't need the licenses to expand geographically or for a new technology. The licenses, however, are concentrated in key metro markets such as Los Angeles and New York, so the operators most likely will sit on them until needed — that is, when the limits of their current 3G networks start to be tested.
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