T-Mobile US asks FCC for its spectrum, albeit temporarily

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T-Mobile US has filed an application with the Federal Communications Commission for temporary access to spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band, clearly concerned that political wrangling in Washington will disrupt its 5G rollout.

The US mobile operator won $304 million worth of spectrum licences in the 2.5 GHz band in auction 108 last September, to add to the raft of frequencies in the same band it picked up via the acquisition of Sprint. It has made much of its end-2023 target of reaching 300 million people with mid-band 5G and 2.5 GHz is central to that. So it needs to get its hands on the licences.

But earlier this month the US Congress let the FCC’s spectrum auction authority lapse amidst disagreements over spectrum policy. In a nutshell, that means the regulator no longer has the authority to auction spectrum. And it cannot allocate the licences that T-Mobile won in the autumn’s auction.

Actually, T-Mobile claims that that last point is not strictly correct. In its application for temporary access to the aforementioned spectrum, the telco notes that it believes the FCC still has the right to hand over its licences because the auction is already concluded. But clearly the FCC does not agree. Or perhaps it is playing hardball, and hoping to turn the T-Mobile situation in its favour.

Either way, the telco understandably wants access to the spectrum it agreed to shell out hundreds of millions of dollars for, and as such, it is willing to take the risk of a short-term licence.

“The recent lapse in the FCC’s auction authority should not delay the benefit of putting spectrum to work for the American people,” T-Mobile said.

Essentially, it has asked the FCC to grant it the right to use the spectrum in a large number of regional markets – reflecting the auction structure; T-Mobile won licences in well over 7,000 markets – for a period of 180 days. It is leaning on a specific section of the Communications Act that allows the regulator to allow temporary operations in extraordinary circumstances where failure to do so would damage the public interest.

Its filing details the ways in which allowing it use the spectrum would benefit the public, through extended mobile broadband coverage and use of the frequencies to boost fixed wireless-based home broadband services in rural areas, for example. It explained that much of the spectrum covered by its request is in white spaces between spectrum it is currently using, so the use of it would enable to add coverage and capacity on 5G, as well as contributing to its carrier aggregation efforts.

“While T-Mobile expects that the Commission’s auction authority will be restored, the timing for when that will occur is unclear,” the telco said. “Due to these extraordinary circumstances, the 2.5 GHz spectrum for which T-Mobile’s subsidiary was the high bidder at auction seems likely to remain idle for some period – an outcome clearly contrary to the public interest.”

Let’s see if the regulator agrees.


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