February 07, 2001, 4:39 PM — AS THE MARCH 6 date for the Federal Communications Commission auction of the 700MHz wireless spectrum auction looms closer, it appears to be taking on less, rather than more, significance.
From a technological point of view, the 700MHz spectrum remains better suited for high-speed access to the mobile Internet -- what has come to be termed Third Generation (3G) -- than the 1.9MHz (1900) spectrum, the auction for which was completed last week.
The 700MHz spectrum passes through buildings and around objects more easily than the higher megahertz bandwidth.
"The lower the megahertz, the better propagation you get and the fewer actual cell sites you would need to cover any geographic area," said Elliot Hamilton, director of global wireless at Strategis Group, in Washington.
But 3G services can be offered over almost any spectrum. The biggest hurdle faced by wireless network providers is the lack of spectrum available to accommodate all of the new services these companies want to deploy.
"As the carriers put in high-speed data services, they have to take away voice channels. That is why they need spectrum," Hamilton said.
The Personal Communications Services (PCS) auction completed last week will give carriers additional nationwide coverage and will take a lot of the pressure off the carriers to bid high at the next scheduled spectrum auction for the 700MHz band planned by the FCC for March 6, according to Hamilton.
The auction for the PCS spectrum auctioned off a total of 422 licenses covering 195 markets and raised $16.8 billion.
A spokesperson for the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association also believed that the PCS auction gave many carriers the bandwidth they needed in areas where they were expanding, according to Travis Larsen at CTIA in Washington.
With more bandwidth now available, carriers are reconsidering their options. Verizon last week petitioned the FCC to delay the March 6 auction, and CTIA gave its support for a delay as well.
"The CTIA is in support of a delay. The carriers need the chance to assess the shape of the market after this most recent auction, and they need time to figure out where they need more spectrum," Larsen said.
Hamilton questioned the value of the March 6 auction, especially because the spectrum is encumbered by television stations, which have a right to the spectrum until 2006 and would have to be paid to give it up.