AT&T has been conducting tests using C-band spectrum since late last year and recently applied for a license modification with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regarding tests in California, Michigan and Texas.
AT&T was the second largest bidder in the C-band auction after Verizon. AT&T plunked down about $27.4 billion, of which $23 billion comes due this year.
It nearly doubled its mid-band spectrum holdings in Auction 107. Still, it spent about half of what Verizon committed, which was $53 billion, including clearing costs. Verizon acquired 160 MHz of C-band compared with AT&T’s 80 MHz.
AT&T’s initial deployments will use existing sites that already have the density to support the C-band spectrum, according to Gordon Mansfield, VP of converged access and device technology at AT&T. Currently with its C-band tests, it’s validating capabilities in anticipation of commercial service later this year, he told Fierce.
AT&T’s FCC filing discloses that it’s using equipment from Nokia and Ericsson; it doesn’t say anything about Samsung infrastructure for C-band. AT&T, in a statement, would only say it’s testing equipment from “multiple network and device suppliers” without commenting beyond that.
In total, AT&T has said it expects to invest between $6 billion and $8 billion in its C-band deployment over the next few years. Its plan is to cover about 70 million to 75 million people by the end of 2022 with this new mid-band spectrum, with plans to surpass 100 million POPs covered in early 2023.
Analysts have questioned AT&T’s wherewithal in wireless and noted its plans are markedly less ambitious than Verizon’s when it comes to C-band. “AT&T will take a year more than Verizon and two years more than T-Mobile to reach 100MM POPs with fast 5G,” wrote New Street Research’s Jonathan Chaplin in a report for investors in April.
“Moreover, they have only articulated plans to deploy to 100MM POPs, while Verizon is targeting 250MM or more and T-Mobile is targeting 300MM. This will leave AT&T at a serious disadvantage that will leave their wireless business in a weak competitive position. Share loss seems inevitable,” Chaplin wrote.
Verizon, perceived as the one in most dire need of mid-band spectrum, has begun installing C-band network gear from Ericsson and Samsung, so that it can immediately turn sites on when the spectrum is cleared. Verizon has said it expects to have between 6,000 to 7,000 C-band sites installed this year.
The first tranche of C-band spectrum won’t become available until late this year because satellite incumbents need to move to make way for the 5G service providers. It’s not unusual for companies to test using spectrum before it’s in their hands. Verizon recently announced how it achieved 4.3 Gbps speeds in tests it conducted in Texas with Ericsson and MediaTek. That trial aggregated 100 MHz of C-band spectrum together with 600 MHz of mmWave spectrum.