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U.S. Cellular snaps up Actel 700 MHz licenses

Tue, 07/17/2012 - 3:13pm
Maisie Ramsay, Wireless Week

U.S. Cellular is buying seven lower 700 MHz A-block licenses from CenturyLink subsidiary Actel for an undisclosed sum, a deal that will give it additional spectrum for its LTE network in a number of its core Midwestern markets.

The licenses cover 35 markets in Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin, according to an application filed with the FCC last week.

"The additional spectrum will allow [U.S. Cellular] to offer innovative services and improve its voice and data offerings to the public," the company said in the documents.

If the FCC clears the transaction, U.S. Cellular will hold up to 61 megahertz below the 1 GHz band in 12 Nebraska counties. The Commission is giving parties until July 26 to oppose the deal, with rebuttals due Aug. 6 and final replies due Aug. 13.

U.S. Cellular is using its lower 700 MHz A-block and B-block spectrum for its LTE network. The company has had to work around interference problems in the A-block from television broadcast signals in the adjacent band, leading some to speculate that U.S. Cellular is only using a portion of it’s A-block holdings for LTE.

The regional provider is using a combination of its own spectrum and licenses owned by King Street Wireless for LTE. Its purchase from Actel isn't the only spectrum deal it has forged this year.

In February, U.S. Cellular added to its spectrum stockpile when it bought a total of five 700 MHz licenses from Cavalier Wireless and USA Communications. It has also expressed interest in buying some of Verizon's A-block spectrum offered for sale if the AWS deal goes through.

U.S. Cellular lit up its LTE network in March. The service currently covers about one-quarter of its customers and is expected to span more than half of its customer base by year-end.

The operator is banking on its LTE network to help it better compete against national rivals AT&T and Verizon Wireless, which continue to lure away the smaller company's contract customers.

U.S. Cellular lost 49,000 net subscribers during the first quarter after defections of postpaid customers offset the addition of prepaid customers, contributing to a 2 percent year-over-year decline in its customer base, which now stands at 5.57 million.

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