AT&T said today that it won millimeter wave spectrum covering 99% of the U.S. population in Auction 103, which was completed several weeks ago. The AT&T Auction 103 spectrum winnings are in the 39 GHz band.
AT&T was the second biggest winner in Auction 103, which also auctioned licenses in two other millimeter wave bands – 37 GHz and 47 GHz. The biggest winner was Verizon. T-Mobile also was a big winner.
Millimeter wave spectrum supports the fastest broadband speeds, but over relatively short distances, which means that a nationwide deployment in the band will require more time and resources in comparison with deployments in other bands.
AT&T Auction 103 Winnings
AT&T already had some 39 GHz spectrum prior to the auction, which the company obtained when it purchased FiberTower in early 2018. The company opted to surrender those licenses in exchange for a bidding credit in Auction 103 but apparently won all or most of them back. In addition, the company has millimeter wave spectrum in the 24 GHz band. The company uses the brand name 5G+ for the 5G service it has deployed using millimeter wave spectrum.
The company also has deployed 5G in lower-frequency spectrum, however, with the goal of quickly gaining broader coverage, albeit at lower speeds. The company has a target of having nationwide lower-frequency 5G coverage in the first half of this year.
Nationwide millimeter wave coverage undoubtedly will take longer, but AT&T is already looking ahead to reaching that milestone, noting in today’s press release that once the 5G+ network “is built with the necessary density for mobile services, fixed services may follow.”
AT&T’s attitude toward fixed 5G has fluctuated in recent years, but the reference suggests the company still sees potential in offering that option.
Some Auction 103 winners – including Windstream – expect to use their millimeter spectrum primarily or exclusively for fixed wireless, where they expect to achieve speeds up to 1 Gbps.
Wireless industry attention recently has been focused on mid-band spectrum, which some stakeholders see offering the optimum mixture of speed and coverage. Millimeter wave spectrum is likely to become more important in the future as bandwidth demands climb, however.
The speeds that a carrier can support depend not only on the spectrum band used but on how much spectrum the carrier holds. And today’s press release about AT&T Auction 103 winnings suggests AT&T will be in a good position in that regard. The company’s millimeter wave average spectrum depth is now 1,040 MHz, including 786 MHz in the 39 GHz band.