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T-Mobile: Channel-51 Interference a Non-Issue

Sarah Thomas
1/6/2014
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Interference with the channel 51 broadcast TV spectrum is a big concern in the low bands, but T-Mobile says its new 700 Mhz footprint will affect less than half of the population it will cover when it closes its acquisition of Verizon's block A assets.

In a conference call discussing T-Mobile US Inc. 's bid to acquire $2.3 billion worth of lower 700 MHz A Block spectrum licenses from Verizon Wireless , T-Mobile CEO John Legere said that the acquisition will give the carrier low-band spectrum covering 150 million people in major markets like NYC, Philadelphia, Atlanta, DC, and Detroit, and that more than half of the population covered will be outside of channel 51's range. (See T-Mobile Spends $2.4B on Verizon Spectrum .)

Channel 51 is the broadcast TV channel that's adjacent to the lower A block portion of the 700 MHz frequency band. It has caused significant interference issues in the past and is the reason AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) used to cite for not supporting band 12 in its devices. AT&T changed its tune back in September, and now T-Mobile is downplaying the issue as well. (See AT&T Closes $1.9B Verizon Spectrum Buy.)

Legere said that T-Mobile has more than 15,000 cell sites outside of channel 51 markets, and it will be able to begin deploying service on it in several major markets just as soon as the Verizon deal closes. CTO Neville Ray also added that there are mitigation techniques available today that will help further shrink the impacted areas.

"These interference issues will be fully resolved in the near- to mid-future," Legere said on the call, adding that FCC actions should also help the issue.

AT&T is also working on achieving interoperability in the 700 MHz bands, which Ray said makes the A-block licenses much easier to deploy. He said the carrier is keen to partner with AT&T and others to grow the compatible handset ecosystem and promised initial devices that support the A-block on T-Mobile before the end of the year.

"This isn't a new band we need to push through 3GPP and get approval on," Ray noted. "It's out there, and we can move quickly on it. It's a fairly mature marketplace in the US."

He added that there are already multiple options on antenna sizes and form factors, and that T-Mobile has a lot of flexibility in how it attacks growing the ecosystem. BTIG Research analyst Walter Piecyk agrees that low-band interference issues aren't as significant as they once were, but his optimism for T-Mobile is tempered by the size of its bet on the low band.

"The interop deal should help to get vendors on board for developing the products that work with these interference issues," Piecyk tells Light Reading. "But it's hard to ignore the lack of networks that have been built since this spectrum was auctioned in 2008 and the cheaper price paid relative to the adjacent B-Block spectrum."

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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