12.22.11

The next broadband battle…

Posted in General, Regulatory, Spectrum at 9:15 am by timfarrar

As my article yesterday for GigaOm highlighted, the potential ripple effects of an AT&T/DISH deal are almost too numerous to mention. However, in addition to the political consequences, its also worth considering the implications of this potential industry realignment for the US spectrum market. As I’ve noted before, spectrum didn’t look like a good investment a year ago, and while the cable companies have come out OK (based mainly on their smart bidding strategy in the 2006 AWS auction), companies like Clearwire and NextWave who have bet on more speculative spectrum bands have suffered badly from a lack of buyers for the spectrum they’ve tried to sell. Even DISH faced little or no opposition from major wireless operators in its acquisition of DBSD and TerreStar’s spectrum assets.

Now, if deals between AT&T/DISH and Verizon/SpectrumCo go through, network sharing will create significant bandwidth efficiencies and with only two national LTE networks there will be even less competition in future spectrum auctions. That could well mean that incentive auctions will come to naught, because it will not be possible to generate high enough bids to persuade broadcasters to give up their spectrum (although that probably won’t prevent Congress eventually passing a bill so it can count imaginary future revenues against the deficit and/or D-block buildout).

In the near term, it also means that it will be difficult if not impossible for Clearwire to find eager bidders for the portion of its spectrum holdings it would like to sell (at anything from $0.25 to $0.75 per MHzPOP according to its recent roadshow). Indeed I’ve been told that the only offer to buy spectrum from Clearwire (during its efforts to sell spectrum earlier this year) came from Sprint, and its far from obvious that enough has changed to justify the recent speculation about new near term Clearwire partners/spectrum buyers ranging from MetroPCS to DirecTV.

As an aside I also find it hard to see how DirecTV’s involvement in a 2.6GHz TD-LTE venture in Brazil, which is focused on fixed wireless broadband in residential suburbs, just like Clearwire’s original fixed WiMAX business plan, has much relevance to Clearwire’s current small cell mobile data roaming plan in core urban hotspots. In theory DirecTV could buy Clearwire spectrum to deploy its own separate fixed wireless broadband network in the US, with a completely different cell spacing than a mobile network would require, but that hardly seems a productive use of capital when the US has vastly better fixed broadband infrastructure than Brazil and we’ve just seen the ignominious collapse of Open Range, which was trying to execute such a plan in rural areas, with subsidized loans from the USDA. As I’ve said before, fixed broadband is by far the best way to go for almost all in-home data delivery, and so I think that ultimately DirecTV will have to reach some agreement to use AT&T’s wireline infrastructure, completing the alignment of AT&T with the satellite TV companies against Verizon and the cable companies.

1 Comment »

  1. TMF Associates MSS blog » Things to do in Denver when your deal’s dead… said,

    October 24, 2012 at 1:28 pm

    [...] and broadband could also be a key part of this deal, via an alignment of both satellite TV operators with AT&T, similar to the Verizon-cable TV partnership, and that would be cemented by the sale of [...]

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