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Spectrum Analysis Part Two...Sprint and T-Mobile spare PCS spectrum would pair nicely for a LTE Partnership

Posted by S4GRU, in Author: Andrew J. Shepherd 10 February 2012 · 6,669 views

Sprint Network Vision LTE T-Mobile Spectrum 1900MHz
Spectrum Analysis Part Two...Sprint and T-Mobile spare PCS spectrum would pair nicely for a LTE Partnership by Andrew J. Shepherd
Sprint 4G Rollout Updates
Friday, February 10, 2012 - 12:22 PM MST



In part one of this series, we discussed how Sprint could theoretically leverage its long held PCS A-F block spectrum to deploy a second 5 MHz x 5 MHz LTE channel in many markets alongside the 5 MHz x 5 MHz LTE channel that Sprint plans to roll out in its unused, nationwide PCS G block 10 MHz spectrum.  Here is the rundown:

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  • Verizon Wireless (VZW) and AT&T Mobility (AT&T) have the Upper/Lower 700 MHz spectrum right now to deploy 10 MHz x 10 MHz LTE in most/all markets and gain a significant leg up on the LTE competition.
  • Sprint cannot match that LTE bandwidth in its PCS G 10 MHz license alone.
  • Sprint’s hosting agreement with and wholesale access to LightSquared LTE bandwidth is all but dead.
  • Sprint will not likely be able to utilize its SMR 800 MHz spectrum for LTE nor Clearwire’s BRS/EBS 2500-2600 MHz spectrum for TD-LTE until 2013-2014.
  • Sprint can and does operate many of its CDMA2000 markets (e.g. Chicago, San Francisco, Houston, Atlanta, etc.) in only 20 MHz of licensed PCS A-F block spectrum.
  • Sprint has numerous markets in which it holds 30 MHz of licensed PCS A-F spectrum, thus could potentially set aside that “surplus” 10 MHz for a second 5 MHz x 5 MHz LTE channel in those 30 MHz markets.
And that is just about where we left off at the end of part one.

To continue, in the top 100 markets, Sprint holds 30 MHz of PCS A-F block spectrum in 54 of those markets.  Those are the markets in which Sprint could most readily utilize a 10 MHz “surplus” for a second LTE channel.  See the graph of Sprint markets with “surplus” spectrum and note those markets which hit 10 MHz:

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So, Sprint ostensibly could augment capacity with a second LTE channel in only about half of all top 100 markets (including just 11 of the top 20 markets).  That could be a problem for those other major markets necessarily left out.  But, as hinted at the end of part one, that problem would be solvable through a spectrum and LTE network sharing agreement with another carrier.  And, yes, that other carrier would be T-Mobile.  To be clear, it would not be a merger.  Both carriers would continue to operate separately, but they would share the same LTE network on Sprint’s Network Vision platform.  So, let us focus on “how” such an arrangement could be possible through Sprint’s and T-Mobile’s compatible spectrum holdings.

First, T-Mobile, too, holds “surplus” PCS A-F block spectrum.  T-Mobile operates its 2G GSM network exclusively in its PCS spectrum, reserving its AWS 2100+1700 MHz licenses for its 3G/4G W-CDMA network overlay.  Similar to Sprint, T-Mobile can and does operate its (GSM) network in only 20 MHz of spectrum in many very large markets (e.g. New York, Los Angeles, Boston, etc.).  Also similar to Sprint, T-Mobile is licensed 30 MHz (or more) of PCS spectrum in many top 100 markets.  See the graph of T-Mobile “surplus” PCS A-F spectrum; again, note the 10 MHz (or more) markets:

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Something interesting happens when we combine the first two graphs.  If Sprint and T-Mobile were to have joint access to their “surplus” PCS A-F spectrum, the number of markets in which a prospective LTE network partnership would have at least 10 MHz of spectrum for a second LTE channel rises to 81 markets (including all top 10 markets and 18 of the top 20).  See the combined graph:

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Better yet, because of the particular combinations of PCS A-F licenses that Sprint and T-Mobile hold and the oft symbiotic ways that those licenses line up, a Sprint-T-Mobile partnership could actually roll out a 10 MHz x 10 MHz LTE channel in top 20 markets Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Dallas, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Denver, and Seattle – matching or even exceeding the LTE deployments of VZW and AT&T in those markets.

Furthermore, T-Mobile subscribers are increasingly adopting W-CDMA capable devices, thereby shifting much of their usage to the W-CDMA overlay and reducing the load on the GSM network.  As a result, if T-Mobile could pare down its GSM spectrum utilization to 10 MHz per market, then T-Mobile could contribute 20 MHz of “surplus” spectrum in its 30 MHz (or more) PCS markets. And the Sprint-T-Mobile spectrum complement would go through the roof.  The LTE partnership would then have sufficient spectrum to launch a second 5 MHz x 5 MHz LTE channel in all top 100 markets.  And the markets in which it could deploy a 10 MHz x 10 MHz LTE channel would swell to include the eight aforementioned top 20 markets plus Houston, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Buffalo, New Orleans, Portland, Salt Lake City, Austin, et al.  Again, see the combined graph (now with T-Mobile “surplus” at greater than 10 MHz):

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The numbers largely speak for themselves.  Together, Sprint and T-Mobile could take advantage of their complementary spectrum to build a broader, higher capacity LTE network than either could alone.  So, that is “how” a partnership could materialize.  Next time, we will delve into “why” a Sprint-T-Mobile spectrum and LTE network sharing agreement would make a lot of sense for both carriers.  A preview of one very big reason “why” – yes, the impending LTE iPhone.

Sources:  FCC, author’s notes




Great article. Another reason why Dan Hesse was so opposed to an acquisition of T-Mobile by AT&T.
That would be be a match made in heaven. I wonder if both companies would be smart enough to go for it...
Then maybe once both companies move to VoLTE, and Sprint has paid off enough of NV to borrow more money, Deutsche Telekom can unload T-Mobile to Sprint.
it does make sense. Sprint was anticipating, but not dependent upon a certain and significant contribution of funds from Lightsquared. now that it's all but assured that LS is going to fail, they are likely looking for a new funding source/partner. it appears to be a win-win for both companies. now, since t-mobile would only be contributing pcs spectrum to the venture, keeping its aws spectrum in use for their hspa+ network, would it be fair to say that t-mobile would NOT have access to the 800MHz LTE and 2.5GHz TD-LTE networks once they inevitably go live?
Great article!!! I guessed it right in the last article that Tmobile would be the network partner of choice. I like your idea of a potential Sprint/Tmobile network sharing deal where Tmobile would lend Sprint its excess PCS spectrum in exchange for future LTE service for their customers since it gives Sprint more spectrum to deploy additional LTE channels and in some cases wider channels.

Sprint has been on a partnership frenzy lately and it wouldn't surprise me that this is something that they may consider but of course it will take tons of planning before it comes to fruition. If Sprint were to do a deal like this, I couldn't see this being announced until at least mid 2013 since Sprint wants to make sure that 60-70% of the nation is covered with Network Vision towers so that the project doesn't seem so far fetched for Tmobile. If a deal were to be announced now, it will be useless since Tmobile will still have to wait until Sprint blankets the nation with Network Vision towers. Sprint doesn't need this distraction when their main focus should be to improve the tower infrastructure and user experience first.

it does make sense. Sprint was anticipating, but not dependent upon a certain and significant contribution of funds from Lightsquared. now that it's all but assured that LS is going to fail, they are likely looking for a new funding source/partner.


Indeed. And according to some posted Network Vision schematics, the LightSquared L-band 1500-1600 MHz antennas had to be additional and separate from the Sprint SMR/PCS 800/1900 MHz antennas. But if T-Mobile were to contribute PCS 1900 MHz spectrum to a joint venture with Sprint, that would not require much if any additional or separate infrastructure, as the Network Vision dual band antennas would already be in place. Thus, T-Mobile spectrum would be an easy fit.

would it be fair to say that t-mobile would NOT have access to the 800MHz LTE and 2.5GHz TD-LTE networks once they inevitably go live?


Ah, you are going to have to wait for part three of the article series next week. As part of my discussion "why" Sprint-T-Mobile could/should pursue an LTE network sharing agreement, I will address how Sprint and T-Mobile could maintain differentiation while still selling access to the same LTE network. And, yes, differential access to LTE 800 and/or TD-LTE 2500-2600 is one potentiality that I plan to cover.

AJ

Ah, you are going to have to wait for part three of the article series next week. As part of my discussion "why" Sprint-T-Mobile could/should pursue an LTE network sharing agreement, I will address how Sprint and T-Mobile could maintain differentiation while still selling access to the same LTE network. And, yes, differential access to LTE 800 and/or TD-LTE 2500-2600 is one potentiality that I plan to cover.AJ


There is going to be a part 3????? Wow!!! I'll be looking forward to your article. How many parts do you anticipate this topic will have?
Great analysis! It makes so much sense that you wonder if negotiations are going on already. I suppose it will hinge on if DT wants to commit to the U.S. market and put more money into T-Mo. They've already committed to saying they wanted to concentrate on its Europe operations and leave the U.S.
Is a merger necessary? Can they keep their respective 3G networks and just go together on LTE?
Absolutely they can do this without a merger. In the short term, a merger doesn't make sense. I don't think Dan Hesse wants to stand before the FCC so quickly after pushing so hard against the ATT/Tmo merger.

A partnership like this is a great way to show the FCC that there doesn't need to be any concerns about a future merger. Because a full demonstration of the whole deal will have been shown in advance.

However, even a future merger isn't necessary either.
Looks like this idea is already being hinted by analysts on a network sharing deal with Tmobile for LTE and also mentioned about Tmobile sharing spectrum with Sprint to give Sprint more spectrum and capacity to deploy more LTE carriers. Lets hope that Dan Hesse's ears are wide open to this report.

http://www.tmonews.c...-with-t-mobile/

Forbes article
http://www.forbes.co...ons-for-sprint/