AT&T Settles With FCC Over FiberTower, Loses Some 5G Spectrum

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AT&T settled its dispute with the Federal Communications Commission over FiberTower's millimeter-wave spectrum the company claimed belonged to it, indenting to use the portfolio for deploying a 5G network. While the second largest wireless carrier in the country is set to lose over a hundred of mmWave licenses as part of the deal and has publicly expressed its disappointment with the development, the outcome is far from the worst-case scenario for the company as 650 out of 738 licenses held by FiberTower were in dispute, i.e. in danger of being returned to the federal regulator. The settlement will see AT&T receive 479 of the firm's licenses in the 39GHz band which the company estimates will amount to approximately 360MHz in total.

The major loss for AT&T came on the 24GHz front as all 121 licenses owner by FiberTower in that band are now set to be reclaimed by the FCC which will likely reauction them in the future. While the Dallas, Texas-based mobile service provider has yet to officially complete its acquisition of FiberTower and hence claim the licenses that were the subject of the newly announced settlement, the conclusion of the dispute should see the telecom regulator greenlight the deal soon, most industry watchers agree. The deal itself is said to be similar to Verizon's purchase of Straight Path which the FCC approved earlier this month. AT&T was also in contention to acquire the IDT-owned telecom asset company but ended up being outbid by Verizon last April after already agreeing to take over the firm and its 39GHz spectrum holdings for $1.6 billion. It's presently unclear when the FCC is planning to auction off more mmWave spectrum but until it announces more concrete plans to do so, both Verizon and AT&T are adamant to continue amassing licenses in the secondary market, much to T-Mobile's protests.

mmWave spectrum is expected to play a major role in the next wireless revolution promised by the deployment of 5G infrastructure due to its ability to transmit more data at higher speeds with lower response times. Regardless of their benefits, the nature of such frequency bands makes them unsuitable for long-distance transmissions, which is why the wireless industry has recently been placing a large focus on small cell deployment, seeking to install millions of new shoebox-sized stations meant to bounce mmWave signals.

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