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AT&T signs up Ericsson for rolling out 5G in C-band

Ericsson has bagged itself a five-year deal to help AT&T roll out 5G using its recently acquired C-band spectrum and launch standalone 5G.

The Swedish vendor joins rival Nokia on the list of AT&T’s major suppliers for its C-band network, the Finnish vendor having announced its participation in the project back in March. The deals mark an extension of an existing relationship with AT&T for both companies, but actually putting pen to paper on new mid-band deals doubtless came as welcome news nonetheless.

Naturally, the companies did not disclose the value of the deals, but with AT&T having committed to spending between US$6 billion and $8 billion on the C-band rollout over three years, they are probably fairly lucrative contracts. That said, for the US telco, that network build budget comes on top of the $27.4 billion it paid to acquire the C-band spectrum in the first place. While that part of the equation is not the vendors’ problem as such, it probably helped sharpen AT&T’s negotiating skills with its suppliers.

AT&T will use Ericsson’s radio system portfolio of products, including its Advanced Antenna System, which it notes is important to C-band rollout since it facilitates broader coverage and capacity, Advanced RAN Coordination and Carrier Aggregation technologies. The telco is also preparing for the introduction of cloud-based RAN technology.

“As we continue to expand our nationwide 5G network, Ericsson’s technology offerings and 5G expertise will assist with our network evolution,” said Scott Mair, President, AT&T Network Engineering and Operations. “This latest agreement provides the pathway for us to deploy Ericsson’s next-generation centralized RAN architecture, enabled by Fronthaul Gateway, with the ability to support future network enhancements, like the evolution to Cloud RAN.”

The first swathe of AT&T’s C-band spectrum will be freed up by the end of this year, but the telco expects the bulk of its spending to come in the 2022-2024 period, as more C-band frequencies become available for use.

But while the US telco’s network engineers are working towards building out that C-band infrastructure, elsewhere in the company the focus is on acquiring yet more mid-band spectrum.

AT&T is predicted to be one of the big spenders – although we’re not expecting to see a repeat of the massive sums generated by the C-band sale – in the ongoing 3.45 GHz auction which got underway last week. AT&T has less mid-band spectrum at its disposal than Verizon and T-Mobile US, which are unlikely to rack up big bills at auction 110.

The running total in the auction was up to $1.57 billion after round 11 on Friday, according to the FCC, which is still some way below the its $14.77 billion reserve price across all spectrum blocks.

According to Sasha Javid, COO at BitPath, the pattern of bidding in the auction suggests that one big player dropped out of the auction during round 10. It seems unlikely that this would have been AT&T, but we will have to wait a while longer for any answers on that one. From the FCC’s point of view, that could have been something of a disaster had any other large bidders followed suit, but thus far there is no indication that that was the case.

Bidding, along with all the speculation that goes with it, resumes on Tuesday.

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