The days of Dish and T-Mobile playing nice may be coming to an end. On March 13, during the height of the coronavirus crisis, Dish lent its portfolio of 600 MHz spectrum to T-Mobile at no cost for 60 days in order to bolster wireless capacity during the pandemic. Recently, T-Mobile asked Dish for an extension of its 600 MHz spectrum loan until June 30. T-Mobile says the continued use of Dish’s spectrum is necessary to support the needs of customers who are still working and learning from home.
The nation’s internet service providers, both for fixed and mobile services, are beginning to see the economic impacts from their pledge to not disconnect customers during the COVID-19 crisis.
CenturyLink’s Chief Technology Officer Andrew Dugan said that some European regulators asked two groups of internet content providers to slow down their traffic in response to increased network loads stemming from the COVID-19 crisis. The two groups of content providers are over-the-top (OTT) video companies and gaming companies. EU Industry Chief Thierry Breton had urged streaming platforms including Netflix and YouTube to cooperate with telecom providers and temporarily downgrade the quality of video streaming by offering standard definition rather than high definition video.
The transport infrastructure for 5G is just as important as the other elements of the 5G network, and transport technologies are having to be updated for this next generation of wireless. Shane McClelland, VP of transport products at Ericsson North America, says that the way mobile backhaul has been handled up until now, won’t suffice in the 5G era. “The industry has created new architectures for [Radio Access Network] RAN,” said McClelland. He said, “We used to have just a couple of simple interfaces in a distributed RAN world.
In the United States prior to coronavirus, total home internet traffic averaged about 15% on weekdays. But it started growing in mid March, and by late March it had reached about 35%, clearly connected to all the working and learning from home due to stay-at-home orders. This doubling of work-from-home traffic mirrors the events in China. But it’s too soon to tell if home traffic in the United States will increase permanently even after the crisis has passed. “The data suggests remote working will remain elevated in the U.S. for a prolonged period of time,” wrote analysts at Cowen.
Dish said it will be lending 20 MHz of its AWS-4 (Band 66) and all of its 700 MHz spectrum to AT&T, starting immediately. Dish will provide the spectrum to AT&T at no cost for 60 days. AT&T will be able to deploy the AWS-4 spectrum quickly and easily using its AWS-1 and AWS-3 equipment. In addition, AT&T can use Dish’s 700 MHz E-Block in conjunction with the D-Block that AT&T has started deploying in some markets.
Analysts are speculating that these loans during a time of crisis might later be turned into ongoing leases.
T-Mobile worked with a variety of other providers to rustle up additional 600 MHz spectrum to help it meet increased customer demand for wireless broadband, as people are forced to work and learn from home. The companies that have agreed to contribute spectrum are Dish, Comcast, NewLevel, LB License Co, Channel 51, Omega, Bluewater and TStar License Holdings.
CenturyLink has benefited the most from the Connect America Fund (CAF) II, a Federal Communications Commission program that has awarded Universal Service Funds to telecommunication operators to build broadband in unserved and underserved areas of the US, especially rural areas. CenturyLink has received $506 million per year since 2015 in CAF II awards, which will total more than $3 billion over the six-year period from 2015 to 2020. Now, the FCC has proposed a follow-on program to CAF.
Dish Networks Chairman Charlie Ergen pointed out that DISH’s new 5G network will be a greenfield network and should not be evaluated in the same way as an incumbent’s network. He said DISH’s network would cost less than other carriers’ networks because DISH plans to use next-generation technology, which relies much more on software than on expensive, proprietary hardware. “The cost structure goes down,” he said. “The vast majority of capex for the incumbents is not for 5G, it’s to maintain the legacy.
Twenty-five states, including NY and CA, have not adopted the Federal Communications Commission’s new rule regarding the deployment of new small cell equipment. And, a couple of states are appealing the FCC’s rule in the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which is taking up the question of whether the FCC has authority in the matter. Now, Sens John Thune (R-SD) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) have introduced a bill that would codify many parts of the FCC’s rule.