A spectrum-sharing deal among three of America's four largest wireless carriers is an unusual step that industry insiders say will be interesting to watch, not just from a technical standpoint, but also for how airwaves are competed for or shared in the future.
The carriers announced late last week that they have a memorandum of understanding to test the viability of sharing 95 MHz of spectrum currently used by the Department of Defense and other federal agencies.
AT&T was quick to point out that clearing and reallocating is still the best approach to freeing up spectrum for commercial mobile broadband use, but when that is neither time- nor cost-effective, sharing arguments might be worth pursuing.
The carriers and the Defense Department plan to test the spectrum over the next couple of months to see if sharing it will be effective.
"The challenge with sharing cuts both ways. The government must ensure that often national security-critical uses – such as satellite command and control and air combat training, as cited in the announcement – continue to be supported unabated, while allowing commercial enterprises to ‘dip into’ the spectrum as needed to serve their customers," noted Yankee Group senior analyst Rich Karpinski, commenting specifically on a Fierce Wireless article discussing the new venture. "For mobile operators, it will be important to assess whether such spectrum sharing not only works technically but makes business sense as well in helping meet the need for additional mobile broadband capacity. The bands in question for the test, 1755-1850 MHz, are particularly attractive to U.S. mobile operators because they sit directly next to the commercially-used AWS bands and represent the last block of federal airwaves below 3 GHz. The parties are to be applauded for pursuing an innovative solution, but must be diligent to assess not just the technical success but also the competitive impact of the test results and how government and industry ultimately move forward with these airwaves."
Wireless carriers are desperate to accumulate more spectrum – whether it's via purchase, acquisition or sharing agreements like this one – in order to provide more, faster 4G bandwidth and services to their customers.
Sprint isn't a part of the trial but reportedly said it'll be watching closely to see how it turns out.
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