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Sprint's PCS spectrum position in Memphis goes from nothin' but a hound dog to Graceland

Posted by WiWavelength , in Author: Andrew J. Shepherd 03 September 2015 · 5,670 views

Memphis C Spire PCS C 10 MHz FDD
Sprint's PCS spectrum position in Memphis goes from nothin' but a hound dog to Graceland by Andrew J. Shepherd
Sprint 4G Rollout Updates

Thursday, September 3, 2015 - 3:28 AM MDT


Ladies and gentlemen, C Spire has left the building. In Memphis. Or so it seems.

Based on an FCC spectrum lease filing that came down the pike earlier this week, Cellular South dba C Spire has applied to lease all of its spectrum in Memphis to Sprint. S4GRU has not been able to confirm yet, but this almost certainly appears to signal a C Spire exit from Memphis -- its largest urban market into which it expanded just a few years ago.

Disclaimer: the FCC ULS (Universal Licensing System) -- which is the parent database for all spectrum licenses and applications and is what I access directly to do spectrum research -- is down for a server migration over the Labor Day holiday weekend, not back online until sometime next week. In fact, the FCC ULS went offline right in the midst of my research a night ago. Fortunately, I was able to gather the relevant info on the Memphis spectrum to be leased to Sprint. However, the entirety of the transaction also involves Sprint leasing spectrum elsewhere back to C Spire -- more on that later. As more information becomes available, we will publish an update or a follow up, if warranted.

In Memphis, the spectrum to be leased to Sprint is the PCS 1900 MHz C2 block 15 MHz (7.5 MHz FDD) and Lower 700 MHz A block 12 MHz (6 MHz FDD) licenses. From a CDMA2000 standpoint, the PCS would be band class 1 spectrum; the Lower 700 MHz is irrelevant for CDMA2000. For LTE, the PCS would be band 2 or band 25 spectrum, which Sprint would utilize as band 25, and the Lower 700 MHz would be band 12, which Sprint has not held in any other market. That last piece is a key point -- more on that later, too.

At this point, S4GRU cannot definitively comment on C Spire's motivation to leave its largest market -- if that indeed is what is happening. Albeit, similar regional operator USCC faced struggles with expansion into Chicago and St. Louis, eventually closing down those markets and selling off spectrum to Sprint. Likely, that is what is happening in Memphis.

Along possibly related lines, USCC faced spectrum constraints with launching LTE in Chicago and St. Louis, potentially rendering them dead end markets in the current LTE focused environment. From Spectrum Gateway's interactive map, we can see that UHF channel 51 presently conflicts with Lower 700 MHz A block deployment in Memphis. With its Lower 700 MHz A block license encumbered and decent but not large PCS spectrum holdings in Memphis, C Spire likely faced a difficult road to LTE there.

S4GRU may try to seek official comment from C Spire on this matter. Presumably, though, C Spire will address the Memphis issue in the coming days, providing some clarity on the matter. If C Spire is truly exiting the Memphis market, it will have to notify its existing subscribers.

All of that ambiguity aside, Sprint's motivation is clearly understandable. After the USCC transaction in Chicago and the Revol transaction in Cleveland and Indianapolis, Memphis is one of the last few top markets where Sprint holds only 20 MHz total of PCS A-F block spectrum -- even more dire, that 20 MHz in Memphis is broken up into two non contiguous 10 MHz (5 MHz FDD) blocks. Though a minimal amount of info has changed in the intervening years or decades since I did the pro bono work, you can view some of my Sprint spectrum documentation, including Memphis, in this spreadsheet, this map, and this spreadsheet.

What that means presently for Sprint in Memphis is additional guard bands are required because of the interrupted spectrum blocks and no chance of LTE carrier bandwidth greater than 5 MHz FDD, nor any band 25 second carrier until after significant CDMA2000 thinning or shutdown. But this spectrum from C Spire changes everything.

At the very least, Sprint will have increased its PCS A-F block Memphis spectrum holdings from just two non contiguous 10 MHz (5 MHz FDD) blocks to those two blocks plus another non contiguous 15 MHz (7.5 MHz FDD) block. A band 25 second carrier in Memphis is coming down the river.

However, what I think -- and what other S4GRU staff members have independently concurred -- is that Sprint will swap this C Spire spectrum with AT&T.

First, the spectrum lease application with C Spire is for a long term, de facto transfer lease. We could be wrong, but this lease smacks of a prelude to a full sale of C Spire spectrum licenses in Memphis to Sprint. In that case, Sprint would have options to rearrange its position in the PCS band plan. Primarily, both Sprint and AT&T would be advantaged to swap their PCS C1 and PCS C2 blocks for greater contiguity for both parties. Continue reading.

Just as S4GRU documented in the Columbus, OH market a month ago, the PCS G block LTE 5 MHz FDD carrier probably would be redeployed as a 10 MHz FDD carrier bridged across portions of the PCS C block and PCS G block. That still would leave room in the potentially acquired spectrum for up to two additional CDMA2000 carriers, which would replace two of the three CDMA2000 carriers lost in the PCS D block or PCS B5 block, one of which would be refarmed for an LTE 5 MHz FDD carrier to ensure continued LTE access to any early band 25 devices that do not support LTE in anything but 5 MHz FDD -- the same process that we saw in Columbus.

For illustration of the present, post transaction, and possible PCS spectrum future in Memphis, see this S4GRU graphic:

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Other possibilities exist for Sprint and AT&T spectrum "horse trading" in Memphis -- such as Sprint getting the AT&T PCS F block in exchange for effectively returning to AT&T the PCS B5 disaggregation that Sprint acquired from AT&T predecessor AT&TWS in a spectrum transaction over a decade ago. But those other spectrum transaction possibilities would be more disruptive to current service, so I and other S4GRU staff do not think those band plan rearrangements likely in the near future.

To start to wrap matters up for now -- but probably to be continued later -- that Memphis BEA Lower 700 MHz A block is the proverbial elephant in the room. As noted earlier, that is band 12 spectrum. And Sprint now has plenty of band 12 compatible devices previously released, currently available, or upcoming. Indeed, band 12 is part of the CCA/RRPP device procurement plan.

However, we do not expect Sprint to deploy band 12 in Memphis. The Lower 700 MHz A block is not immediately compatible with Sprint's Network Vision infrastructure, and it is currently encumbered by adjacent UHF broadcasting. If, as S4GRU expects, a full spectrum transfer ultimately results from this Memphis spectrum lease, then look for Sprint to flip the Lower 700 MHz A block license to T-Mobile, which has shown its motivation and money to get UHF channel 51 broadcasters relocated -- or paid to accept some adjacent channel interference.

As an exchange for that low band spectrum -- which T-Mobile has now started to value so greatly -- Sprint could gain some of the excess T-Mobile-Metro PCS spectrum that S4GRU pointed out almost three years ago, shoring up Sprint's PCS A-F block 20 MHz holdings in the likes of important markets San Francisco, Atlanta, or Miami.

To return to and conclude with C Spire, our article starter, we cannot precisely document what SMR 800 MHz, PCS 1900 MHz, and/or BRS/EBS 2600 MHz spectrum C Spire will lease from Sprint. Because the FCC ULS frustratingly is out of commission for several more days. Cursory examination when the leases were still accessible online, though, did not indicate any major markets. Rather, this could be tied in with a CCA/RRPP agreement to expand Sprint coverage -- since C Spire infrastructure and handsets typically do not support band 26 nor band 41.

So, the real prize in this transaction is spectrum in Memphis. My apologies to Marc Cohn for ham handedly paraphrasing his 1990s ballad, but it is also all too fitting…in those blue suede shoes...

Leasing in Memphis -- leasing in Memphis
Sprint's getting PCS on and off of Beale
Leasing in Memphis -- leasing in Memphis
How does that really make you feel?



Sources: FCC, Marc Cohn




I go to Memphis once or twice a year. Glad to see it possibly getting better. Last time I was there band 41 was non existent.

It will be very interesting to see how the dominoes fall in this game of spectrum roulette

What other top markets only have 10mhz of PCS spectrum?  I know Houston is in that situation but hopefully we'll be blanketed in b41.

 

*edit - correction as mentioned by WiWavelength: 20mhz PCS spectrum

If I recall correctly, Sprint is giving C Spire SMR/PCS+G/BRS-EBS in 2-3 CMAs near Pensacola, FL and some mix of PCS+G/BRS-EBS in approximate five or so MS CMAs. Overall, C Spire looks to be getting all of Sprint's spectrum in their native coverage markets.

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Paynefanbro
Sep 03 2015 11:00 AM

Hopefully Sprint starts being aggressive in shifting around spectrum and swapping with other carriers in order to try to have 10x10 in as many major metros as possible. For a lot of cities (like NYC) Sprint would have to shut off a lot of EVDO and 1x carriers to accomplish this.

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WiWavelength
Sep 03 2015 12:42 PM

What other top markets only have 10mhz of PCS spectrum?  I know Houston is in that situation but hopefully we'll be blanketed in b41.

 

To be clear, that would be 20 MHz total (10 MHz FDD).  But, yes, Houston is still on that list.

 

If you view my second spreadsheet that I linked in the article (eighth paragraph), you can examine relatively up to date Sprint PCS A-F block spectrum holdings for the top 100 markets.  Some of the markets listed as 20 MHz, such as Chicago and Cleveland, have been augmented by spectrum transactions to ≥30 MHz total in the past three years.

 

AJ

It makes sense for C Spire and Sprint to both work together and concentrate on their strengths. C Spire never really got much traction in Memphis, which has always been an AT&T stronghold going back to the BellSouth Mobility days. And Sprint has always been weak in the ex-affiliate areas of Mississippi. So let C Spire do its thing in the rural areas with Sprint's spectrum supplementing what they have already, and let Sprint do what it historically does best in an urban market like Memphis.

Is the thinking for San Francisco that trading the 700 block in Memphis would get Sprint the 10 MHz of PCS B block that T-mobile has in S.F.,  then Sprint could beg AT&T to switch PCS A&B blocks so Sprint could have all of A and AT&T all of B?

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WiWavelength
Sep 04 2015 03:19 PM

Is the thinking for San Francisco that trading the 700 block in Memphis would get Sprint the 10 MHz of PCS B block that T-mobile has in S.F.,  then Sprint could beg AT&T to switch PCS A&B blocks so Sprint could have all of A and AT&T all of B?

 

Possibly, if San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose is the target in a potential spectrum transaction with T-Mobile.  Here is the provenance of the spectrum in question.

 

Sprint held the entire PCS A block 30 MHz (15 MHz FDD), then partitioned and disaggregated the PCS A5 10 MHz (5 MHz FDD) to AT&TWS about 15 years ago.

 

Cingular nee PacBell had the entire PCS B block 30 MHz (15 MHz FDD).  But in the Cingular-AT&TWS merger a decade ago, Cingular voluntarily decided to divest its former PacBell network assets and some but not all spectrum to T-Mobile in California and Nevada.  T-Mobile previously did not have a native network in those states.  So, that is how T-Mobile came to hold the PCS B5 block 10 MHz (5 MHz FDD) disaggregation, while AT&T nee Cingular retained the remainder of the PCS B block.

 

That PCS B5 10 MHz (5 MHz FDD) block T-Mobile received from its Cingular nee PacBell legacy in California could be a good chip to trade.  It would require a secondary transaction with AT&T, but I think that AT&T would be game to make its PCS B block basically whole again, as Sprint would do the same with its PCS A block.

 

However, T-Mobile acquired 20 MHz (10 MHz FDD) of PCS C block spectrum in the MetroPCS merger.  So, that could be an alternate trading chip.  Or other markets that I mentioned, such as Atlanta or Marcelo's own Miami, could be alternate targets.

 

All of this, of course, is predicated on capitulation of the leases to actual spectrum transfers from C Spire to Sprint.

 

AJ

With respect to B12, I think there was some sort of interim deadline which past by on 7/31 and TV stations which didn't submit a plan for moving off of Ch. 51 or implementing concurrent operations by that date will probably end up waiting a while before they relocate. Also, I believe in areas where channel 51 exists, the FCC extended the buildout deadline past the already-extended Dec 2016 deadline, so those owning 700A licenses in those areas are now in no rush to build out. So, as much as It would be nice to see T-Mobile deploy that spectrum under some sort of deal with Sprint, I think there's a good chance we might not see that take place for a while.


The big question with respect to 700A are what will happen to the huge swaths of licenses owned by Continuum and AB (formerly Cox), many of which are set to expire in just 15 months if not build out to the minimum 35% geographical coverage.
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WiWavelength
Sep 06 2015 07:32 PM

The big question with respect to 700A are what will happen to the huge swaths of licenses owned by Continuum and AB (formerly Cox), many of which are set to expire in just 15 months if not build out to the minimum 35% geographical coverage.

 

License protection.  Those licensees are not going to lose their Lower 700 MHz A block BEA licenses or be forced to sell them between now and then.

 

They can build out, may have already built out license protection coverage -- not that hard to do with some tall sites and experimental mobile terminals to reach 35 percent geographical area coverage.

 

Even if licensees do not reach their interim construction requirement benchmarks, the licenses do not expire.  Rather, their license terms would be reduced in length, accelerating them to reach their final construction requirement benchmarks.

 

If the FCC ULS were not down this holiday weekend for server relocation, we could spot check for already filed interim benchmark construction requirement filings.

 

AJ

If the FCC ULS were not down this holiday weekend for server relocation, we could spot check for already filed interim benchmark construction requirement filings.

 

AJ

 

AJ, any update since the holiday on the licenses and what is all involved?

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WiWavelength
Sep 09 2015 10:24 AM

AJ, any update since the holiday on the licenses and what is all involved?

 

The FCC ULS database still is not back online after server relocation.  So, I cannot write any updates, if necessary, until probably late this week.

 

The good news is that the FCC OET database has been back online since at least Tuesday, thus the iPhone/iPad reveal today should have authorization filings uploaded this afternoon.  We also expect the 2015 Nexus 5 authorization filings any day now.

 

AJ

The FCC ULS database still is not back online after server relocation.  So, I cannot write any updates, if necessary, until probably late this week.

 

The good news is that the FCC OET database has been back online since at least Tuesday, thus the iPhone/iPad reveal today should have authorization filings uploaded this afternoon.  We also expect the 2015 Nexus 5 authorization filings any day now.

 

AJ

 

Back earlier last night :)

 

http://wireless2.fcc...?applID=9191702

The FCC ULS database still is not back online after server relocation.  So, I cannot write any updates, if necessary, until probably late this week.

 

The good news is that the FCC OET database has been back online since at least Tuesday, thus the iPhone/iPad reveal today should have authorization filings uploaded this afternoon.  We also expect the 2015 Nexus 5 authorization filings any day now.

 

AJ

Any updates?