The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has been bullish on millimeter wave spectrum for 5G, recently wrapping up auctions for 24 GHz and 28 GHz airwaves with plans to auction licenses for parts of the 37 GHz, 39 GHz and 47 GHz bands beginning in December. The regulator is also working to open up mid-band frequencies, all in keeping with the vision of 5G as including low-, mid- and high-band frequencies.
Following the most recent rounds of auctions, which raised a total of $2.7 billion, AT&T and US Cellular both provided some insight into how they’ll put new millimeter wave frequencies to work.
AT&T launched its mobile 5G service using 39 GHz and, during the recent auctions, spent $982.4 million on 24 GHz licenses in 383 Partial Economic Areas. The carrier said it has a nationwide average of 254 megahertz with more than 300 megahertz available in eight of the top 10 national markets.
Right now the millimeter wave-based 5G offering is in parts of 19 cities and the expansion roadmap calls for coverage in parts of 29 cities by the end of the year. Nationwide 5G coverage plans depend on sub-6 GHz spectrum, including refarmed 3G spectrum ahead of the planned 2022 shutdown of that network, and are slated for the first half of 2020.
US Cellular tapping 600 MHz spectrum for initial 5G launch
Chicago-based US Cellular provides service in 23 states to more than 5 million subscribers. During the latest FCC auctions, the carrier spent around $129 million on 28 GHz licenses in 362 markets and around $126 million for 282 24 GHz licenses.
The operator’s initial 5G launch strategy is pinned to its 600 MHz spectrum but said that will evolve to include millimeter wave-based coverage. According to the company, its new spectrum provides “at least” 300 megahertz of new frequencies that cover 97% of its customer base.
US Cellular CEO Kenneth Meyers said deployment of millimeter wave will come “as the technology and use cases continue to evolve. Our 5G network strategy envisions the use of a variety of spectrum bands over time.”
Rounding out the other major carrier auction spend, T-Mobile US spent more than $800 million on 24 GHz and $39.3 million on 28 GHz. Verizon spent $506 million on 28 GHz licenses and $15 million on 24 GHz concentrated in less than 10 markets.
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