FCC approves AT&T acquisition of WCS spectrum

AT&T (building logo 001)

The Federal Communications Commission made good on its promise this week, and has approved AT&T’s acquisition of licenses to the underutilized 2.3GHz WCS spectrum from Comcast, Horizon, NextWave and others. In all, the licenses cover 82% of the population, across 608 markets, and the carrier plans to use it to beef up its LTE network…

PhoneScoop reports from the FCC’s order (.pdf):

“The Federal Communications Commission today approved a slew of spectrum acquisitions proposed by AT&T over the course of the last few months. The FCC reviewed the proposals en masse, rather than individually.

After its review, the FCC concluded that the spectrum purchases would not be harmful to consumers on a local or national level, nor decrease competition in the industry. It believes, as AT&T argued, that the acquisitions would put to use spectrum that is being underutilized.”

AT&T plans to use the WCS spectrum to supplement its LTE network around the country. The carrier has been extremely aggressive with its LTE rollout this year. Back in mid-November, it announced that the 4G service was in over 100 markets, covering some 130 million people. Not bad considering the network is just a little more than a year old.

Unfortunately, this isn’t something that can happen over night. In response to the FCC’s approval announcement, the carrier said that it’ll take at least three years to build up the proper infrastructure and introduce devices that support WCS. It’s hoping to start deploying LTE over its newly-minted spectrum by 2015 — about the time it finishes its LTE rollout.

Nevertheless, this was a huge move on AT&T’s part. There’s a spectrum shortage in the US right now (although there’s tons of it belonging to the government and other entities not being used), and it could turn out to be a real problem for carriers, as mobile internet usage continues to swell. If they don’t act, there’s a chance their networks could run into capacity issues.