April 10, 2012, 7:36 AM — T-Mobile has entered into a spectrum-swapping deal with Leap Wireless that will solidify the carrier's spectrum position in four states.
T-Mobile and Leap filed their spectrum-sharing application with the Federal Communications Commission last week and asked the FCC to approve a deal that would give T-Mobile AWS-band spectrum in markets in Alabama, Illinois, Missouri and Minnesota. In exchange, Leap would receive spectrum in big markets such as Phoenix, Ariz., and Houston, Texas. The companies will also be exchanging spectrum in major mid-Atlantic markets such as Philadelphia and Atlantic City, as well as in "several markets in Texas and New Mexico."
BACKGROUND: T-Mobile getting LTE at last
T-Mobile says that the added spectrum will be used to further the reach of its LTE network that is slated to come online in 2013. The carrier announced this past winter that it planned to build out its LTE network on the AWS spectrum band that spans from 1710MHz to 1755MHz for uplink and 2110MHz to 2155MHz for downlink. The move was unsurprising given that the carrier has by far the strongest portfolio of AWS spectrum in the United States, as research from Baird Equity Research estimates that T-Mobile currently has 24MHz of spectrum depth on the AWS band and is due to get an additional 7MHz from AT&T as compensation for the failed merger between the two companies.
Rival carriers Verizon and AT&T have both deployed LTE over the 700MHz spectrum band, which propagates better than spectrum bands such as AWS and PCS that have higher frequencies. Sprint, meanwhile, plans to deploy its LTE network on both the 800MHz spectrum band and the PCS band that spans from 1850MHz to 1915MHz for downlink and 1930MHz to 1990MHz for the uplink. T-Mobile's announcement means that every major U.S. carrier will offer LTE in some capacity by the end of 2013 at the latest.
LTE, which stands for Long Term Evolution, is essentially a bridge from 3G technologies such as HSPA+ and EV-DO Rev. A to the 4G IMT-Advanced technologies that the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) says will deliver consistent speeds in the 100Mbps range. Verizon became the first major U.S. carrier to deploy LTE in late 2010 when it launched the technology in 38 major markets covering roughly one-third of the U.S. population. AT&T followed suit last summer when it launched LTE in Chicago, Atlanta, San Antonio, Dallas and Houston, and has been expanding its reach ever since. Sprint is due to launch its own LTE network within the next couple of months.