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C-band race continues as AT&T makes a call

AT&T has completed a call on its recently acquired C-band spectrum, a further sign of the intense competition between the US telcos as they push on with 5G rollout.

The news came from Nokia, which which is supplying radio equipment for AT&T’s 5G rollout over C-band.

In fact, the companies passed this particular milestone a while ago – the call was made in Detroit in early May – but only just got round to telling us about it. Which is perhaps a little unusual when you consider the level of hype around the acquisition of C-band spectrum in the US, the amount of money spent, and the noise being made by major rival Verizon about its own C-band progress.

As a quick recap, telecoms players in the US spent an eye-watering US$94 billion on C-band spectrum in February, including clearing and relocation costs, with the vast majority of the spend split between Verizon and AT&T. In case anyone has forgotten, Verizon was the big spender, racking up a bill of $52.9 billion, and almost immediately set about trumpeting various C-band events: the start of rollout, its coverage targets and spectrum aggregation trials, for example.

AT&T has been more restrained across the board. Its spend was more modest at $27.4 billion, its projected capex is several billion dollars lower than Verizon’s, and its PR machine has been less aggressive. But now it seems it is getting with the programme, perhaps on the urging of its vendor partner.

Nokia is keen to remind us that it has inked a five-year deal to deploy AT&T’s C-band network across the US, including support for both 5G standalone and non-standalone networks, cloud-based implementations and Open RAN products.

The voice call carried out by AT&T and Nokia engineers used a 5G smartphone form factor mobile test device – of unknown provenance – powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon X55 5G Modem-RF System using the Nokia AirScale baseband and 5G massive MIMO C-Band radio. The joint team will continue to test performance ahead of commercial network deployment, which is scheduled to begin later this year, Nokia said, in a statement.

“Our planned C-Band launch with Nokia will add 5G capacity and coverage where it’s needed,” said Kevin Hetrick, Vice President – Construction and Engineering, at AT&T, in what was a pretty low-key statement compared with some of the 5G-related whooping and hollering we have heard from the other side of the Atlantic in recent months.

Don’t be fooled though: AT&T’s more measured approach to publicising its C-band achievements does not mean that it does not share its rival’s ambitions on rolling out the technology.

AT&T reiterated a recently-announced target – that it aims to cover 200 million people with C-band by the end of 2023, which is a fair few people more than Verizon’s aim to hit 175 million by the same date.

Whatever their approach to sharing information on their various C-band rollouts – T-Mobile US is also in the mix, of course – there is no question that the big mobile operators in the US are racing for coverage, and the next few years are likely to be peppered with announcements on the myriad stages of that marathon.

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