Way back in 1997 the FCC auctioned off licenses for the 2.3 GHz Wireless Communications Service (WCS) band. AT&T owns some of those licenses, but they never actually did anything with them because companies that own WCS spectrum are required to follow some archaic rules that make it nearly impossible to operate a terrestrial network. Speaking about companies that own WCS spectrum, Sirius, the satellite radio company, depends on the WCS band to run their service. They’ve met with AT&T and have reached a deal whereby AT&T will be allowed to use the A and B blocks of the WCS band to operate a 4G LTE network, while the C and D blocks go unused as to prevent any interference with the Sirius service. The folks at ExtremeTech have an incredibly detailed article describing the situation. All you need to know is that the FCC has to sign off on the AT&T and Sirius proposal before anything happens. When is that expected? We have no idea.
The bigger problem here is roaming and device incompatibilities. Today both AT&T and Verizon both use the 700 MHz band to operate their respective 4G LTE networks. Can you take an AT&T 4G LTE device and use it on Verizon’s 4G LTE network? No. Why? Because of the way that the companies have deployed their spectrum in different blocks. Instead of operators trying to work together to provide customers with better service, they’re competing with the old “my network is bigger and faster than your network” mentality that ends up hurting consumers.
Just look at what’s going on in the UK. T-Mobile and Orange merged to form Everything Everywhere. Vodafone and O2 say they’re going to merge their networks too. All of these companies are looking to build a business model based around customer sales and service, instead of wasting resources by trying to out build the other guy.
Will America ever do the same?