AT&T may be testing new tweaks to midband 5G

A new filing at the FCC indicates AT&T and its vendor Ericsson may be interested in testing a midband 5G network that can work across 50MHz of spectrum – in 10MHz blocks – in the 3.45GHz band.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies

April 15, 2024

3 Min Read
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A new filing at the FCC may hint at AT&T's future midband 5G rollout plans. It suggests the operator is interested in a variety of configurations on its 3.5GHz midband spectrum holdings.

However, the exact details of the company's plans are unclear. Neither AT&T nor its testing partner, Whitewater Wireless, would comment on the FCC filings.

AT&T, for its part, is in the early stages of a broad 5G network upgrade program with Ericsson. The company in December inked a five-year, $14 billion contract with the vendor. That contract will likely include a significant expansion of AT&T's midband 5G network across its C-band and 3.45GHz midband spectrum holdings.

AT&T spent roughly $37 billion on midband spectrum licenses between the FCC's C-band and 3.45GHz auctions. However, analysts have said there's a "lack of urgency" around AT&T's 5G buildout.

The tests

Whitewater Wireless filed an application with the FCC to conduct tests of Ericsson equipment across a 50MHz channel in the 3.45GHz band. "Whitewater, collectively with AT&T, Inc., wishes to test both network and user equipment on a 50MHz channel to determine the feasibility of using channel bandwidths in 10MHz increments," according to the filing.

Continued Whitewater: "The 3.45GHz band is allocated in 10MHz blocks. Whitewater currently holds 10MHz of 3.45GHz spectrum in certain markets throughout the United States. ... This will involve testing network and device performance with 50MHz to ensure that the carrier network does not degrade performance of devices which only support 20MHz increments of spectrum."

The tests are to be conducted in Bexar County, Texas, where AT&T owns 40MHz and Whitewater owns 10MHz. Whitewater is backed by Charles Townsend, a longtime player in the US market for spectrum.

"My read on the filing is that Ericsson evidently approached Charlie Townsend because they wanted to conduct testing on 3.45GHz spectrum," Brian Goemmer, with spectrum-tracking company Spektrum Metrics, told Light Reading. "Whitewater is the only non-national carrier with spectrum in Bexar County, Texas. I imagine that it is easier to get approval to use spectrum from an individual rather than the large corporations with many layers of approvals."

The background

AT&T has generally trailed its rivals in deploying midband spectrum. Moreover, the company – as well as other big US wireless network operators – has indicated it expects to decrease spending on its wireless network during 2024 in comparison with previous years.

Into this situation steps Ericsson, which is pushing Nokia equipment out of AT&T's network under the two companies' December agreement.

One issue facing AT&T and Ericsson is the question of dual-mode radios. T-Mobile officials have suggested the operator will wait to deploy its C-band and 3.45GHz holdings until vendors like Ericsson can make dual-band radios that support both bands in one gadget. AT&T officials, on the other hand, had indicated the operator might move forward with separate radios.

T-Mobile officials recently said dual-mode radios are now available. That presumably sets the stage for AT&T and Ericsson to embark on a deployment of dual-mode radios.

About the Author(s)

Mike Dano

Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading

Mike Dano is Light Reading's Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies. Mike can be reached at [email protected], @mikeddano or on LinkedIn.

Based in Denver, Mike has covered the wireless industry as a journalist for almost two decades, first at RCR Wireless News and then at FierceWireless and recalls once writing a story about the transition from black and white to color screens on cell phones.

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