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AT&T's WCS plans to get FCC green light

Thu, 09/27/2012 - 3:32pm
Maisie Ramsay, Wireless Week

The FCC is poised to allow LTE service in the long-unused 2.3 GHz Wireless Communications Services (WCS) band, clearing the way for AT&T's plan to use the spectrum for its LTE network.

Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski's office said Wednesday the agency would vote on revisions to its WCS rules at its Oct. 17 open meeting.

The changes will open 30 MHz of spectrum for mobile broadband service while protecting satellite radio operations in the band and are expected to closely follow a compromise AT&T and SiriusXM submitted to the FCC earlier this summer. The companies' proposal addressed long-standing disputes about use of WCS spectrum for wireless service.

“We applaud the FCC’s expeditious review of the joint proposal we submitted with SiriusXM," Joan Marsh, AT&T vice president of federal regulatory affairs, said. "A vote on the item will permit the deployment of 4G LTE technologies in the WCS band that will help AT&T meet the exploding demand for advanced mobile broadband.”

AT&T has owned WCS spectrum for years but never used them because the FCC's rules made the licenses "unsuitable" for LTE deployment. The operator asked the FCC to change the rules in 2010, following that request with the joint SiriusXM proposal in June.

AT&T's subsequent acquisition of WCS spectrum in August indicated its confidence that the FCC would loosen its rules so the band could be used for LTE. AT&T is buying a substantial amount of WCS and AWS spectrum from Comcast, Horizon Wi-Com, NextWave Wireless and the San Diego Gas & Electric Company.

If the FCC approves the purchases, AT&T will hold up to 30 MHz of WCS spectrum in some markets. The spectrum will be used to add capacity to AT&T's LTE service, currently running on its 700 MHz and AWS licenses.

The FCC blocked AT&T's proposed merger with T-Mobile USA, the carrier's previous attempt at a spectrum grab. That stumbling block left AT&T searching for alternative sources of spectrum, even as primary competitor Verizon Wireless forged a $3.9 billion deal to buy a significant swath of AWS spectrum from a group of cable operators.

AT&T's $600 million buyout of NextWave was announced shortly before Verizon closed the AWS sale last month.

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