DirecTV parent AT&T’s CFO John Stephens said at the Oppenheimer 9th Annual Technology, Internet, & Communications Conference that “There are a couple of things that are unique to us: One is our spectrum position. We have the largest – about 140 MHz, maybe more than that – of low- and medium-band spectrum, which gives us a unique advantage.”
Stephens explained, “If you look deeper into that spectrum, you realize there’s about 40 MHz of that spectrum – AWS-3 and WCS – that we have acquired over the last few years that is very lightly, if at all, used in our network. So all the traffic we are carrying today is carried by the first 100 MHz. And then if you look at that 100 MHz, some of it is dedicated to 2G, which will be able to be repurposed next year as we move off the 2G services. And a large part of it is dedicated to 3G, which over time will also be able to be upgraded to 4G LTE or 5G.”
“The data growth has been dramatic. People are getting more functionality out of the phones. So what we have is we have a large block of spectrum that we’re ready to put into service over the next few years that will dramatically improve our capacity, because it will all be LTE, or at some 5G, which is much greater than the average capacity of our spectrum today.” he said.
Stephens also said that as compared to densifying a wireless network with more small cells and macro sites, the less expensive way to increase the network capacity is to build new spectrum like AWS-3 or WCS. “So we have a spectrum plan for the next five years that’s very, very effective and efficient. And it gives us a unique advantage,” he said.
When Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile are working to mass up their spectrum positions, and build up their spectrum holdings. Stephen said that AT&T’s spectrum has a notable position. Sprint is trying to build a wireless network on its spectrum holdings and T-Mobile is trying to expand its coverage through spectrum. With small cells and other techniques, Verizon is also trying to intensify its network.
FCC’s ongoing incentive auction of TV broadcasters’ unwanted 600 MHz spectrum licenses will have top carriers of the nation including AT&T as participants. This auction would provide bidders with additional spectrum holdings.