Sprint passes on premium spectrum

Already got plenty of airwaves, wants to hold onto its cash

Cell tower, view from below. Image by Shutterstock.com

Sprint says it will not take part in next year’s 600 MHz auction in the USA.

In a press statement, CEO Marcelo Claure says: “Sprint has the spectrum it needs to deploy its network architecture of the future.”

Instead of beefing up its airwave portfolio, the company says it will focus on improving services on the frequencies it already owns. Sprint says it will build extra cell sites and aggregate bandwidth.

Some of Sprint’s critics have suggested America’s fourth largest mobile carrier doesn’t have the money to take part in the auction. However, it is more than a decade since the company last took part in a spectrum auction.

America’s Federal Communications Commission plans to hold a spectrum auction in March 2016. The aim is to buy frequencies in the 600 MHz band from TV broadcasters currently using the spectrum, then sell it on to wireless carriers.

A competitive auction is essential for the government, because without a bit of up-bidding, the auction might not raise enough cash to persuade broadcasters to part with their spectrum.

There doesn’t appear to be any threat to this plan, as the other three major operators appear unlikely to drop out at this stage. Sprint is the only one that doesn't seem to reckon its appetite will be bottomless.

600 MHz spectrum is considered prime real estate by mobile phone companies, because it is a lower frequency than the airwaves currently used for cellular communications. Lower frequency signals travel further and do a better job of penetrating buildings and passing minor obstacles.

Lower frequency spectrum is especially useful, and cost effective, for servicing customers in less densely populated areas, as carriers can build cell towers further apart.

Sprint has extensive spectrum holdings, but most of it is at higher frequencies. ®


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