T-Mobile’s AWS lifeline

Today the FCC approved transfer of AWS spectrum from AT&T to T-Mobile as part of the $6B breakup fee AT&T will pay to T-Mobile USA parent Deutsche Telekom as part of the breakup of the proposed AT&T acquisition of T-Mobile USA. Kudos to whoever at T-Mobile wrote that condition into the initial proposed merger. The remainder of the breakup fee will be in cash, for $3B.

Per FierceWireless:

T-Mobile has said it will have enough AWS spectrum in 75 percent of the top 25 markets to roll out LTE with 10 MHz of spectrum.

Essentially this a spectrum lifeline to T-Mobile, which, despite its aggressive rollout of HSPA, which it bills as 4G, did not have sufficient spectrum for an LTE rollout. Admittedly, 10 MHz (10 MHz each for uplink and downlink?) is a stretch for 4G from a standards perspective, but from a functional perspective, assuming 4 bits per hertz efficiency, T-Mobile will thus have 40 Mbps theoretical downlink speed.

Combined with T-Mobile’s very aggressive small cell rollout (see DAS antenna below in San Francisco’s Mission District), suddenly T-Mobile’s mobile broadband story is improved. No, it’s not 700 MHz beachfront spectrum, but it’s lower than Sprint’s 2500 MHz it uses for WiMAX today. Tethering with an Android phone (the somewhat loosely named, HSPA-capable MyTouch 4G) has proven a very viable mobile broadband substitute, sometimes with WiFi speeds, or better, if WiFi is crowded.
DAS system
One challenge with AWS (1700 / 21001 MHz paired) has been getting handset makers to build for it. Along with T-Mobile, AWS spectrum is used Canada and Chile. e-Mobile in Japan use spectrum that could be called AWS. None have the scale and influence of, say, Verizon Wireless.