AT&T to buy more spectrum across Oklahoma

AT&T hopes to acquire some of Pioneer's 700MHz and PCS spectrum licenses in Oklahoma. 'AT&T will be able to augment its network capacity and improve the quality of services,' the carrier said.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies

August 1, 2023

2 Min Read
(Source: Robert K. Chin - Storefronts/Alamy Stock Photo)
(Source: Robert K. Chin - Storefronts/Alamy Stock Photo)

AT&T appears to be in the early stages of improving its 5G network across parts of Oklahoma, based on the company's latest filings with the FCC.

As first noted by spectrum-tracking company Spektrum Metrics, AT&T told the FCC that it reached an agreement with Pioneer Telephone Cooperative to acquire some of that company's 700MHz and PCS spectrum licenses in Oklahoma.

"By acquiring control of the ... licenses, AT&T will be able to augment its network capacity and improve the quality of services it offers in the affected market," the operator wrote.

An AT&T official declined to comment beyond the FCC filings.

The move doesn't come as a total surprise. As previously reported by Light Reading, Pioneer Cellular disclosed earlier this year that it would shut down its cellular operations.

"For 70 years, Pioneer has been proudly serving our customers and businesses with the best communication tools to keep them connected with the people, communities and information that matters most," the company said. "We have made the business decision to discontinue our cellular operations by this summer."

A Pioneer official told the Southwest Ledger the company exited the wireless industry because it's difficult for smaller providers to be profitable. Other smaller wireless network operators have made similar decisions in recent years.

Instead, Pioneer said it will focus on fiber – a move that dovetails with the US government's plan to flood rural areas with subsidies for building new broadband networks.

According to AT&T's filing with the FCC, Pioneer counts around 37,000 mobile customers, including 147 prepaid customers, 86 Lifeline customers and 732 fixed wireless customers. Pioneer is working to move those customers onto other networks.

The hunt for coverage

This is AT&T's latest such spectrum acquisition. As Light Reading previously reported, Indigo Wireless in Pennsylvania recently disclosed it would transfer its 850MHz and PCS spectrum holdings to AT&T.

Broadly, AT&T has been working to expand its coverage area in part to support the US government's FirstNet program for first responders in rural areas.

However, AT&T's purchase of Pioneer's spectrum licenses in Oklahoma is somewhat surprising considering Pioneer launched an LTE network through Verizon's LTE in Rural America (LRA) program in 2015. Verizon officials did not respond to questions about Pioneer.

Brian Goemmer, of Spektrum Metrics, explained that Pioneer leases some of Verizon's spectrum holdings as one of its LRA partners. "With Pioneer's exit, the spectrum will effectively roll back to Verizon," Goemmer wrote in response to questions from Light Reading.

However, Goemmer noted that now, following Pioneer's exit, Verizon may need to build its own network in Oklahoma to cover Pioneer's old network footprint. He said Verizon could also partner with other carriers in the area to obtain such coverage.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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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