Spectrum drives consolidation, but future auctions are up in the air: Year in Review 2013


Source: Fierce
Coverage Type: analysis
Location:
USA, United States

Spectrum continues to be the lifeblood of the wireless industry, and it drove several major deals in 2013.

T-Mobile US' deal to merge with MetroPCS, which was completed on May 1, was largely about spectrum. T-Mobile is starting to see the fruits of that combination, and is deploying 20x20 MHz LTE channels in Dallas using AWS spectrum, which it plans to do more widely in 2014. Other deals also sprouted up or closed throughout the year. Sprint's deal to acquire US Cellular's PCS spectrum in Midwestern markets closed in May. T-Mobile also decided to buy AWS spectrum from US Cellular in the Mississippi Valley region. In the absence of FCC spectrum auctions, 2013 was a busy year in terms of spectrum deals on the secondary market. The deals were an indication of continuing consolidation in the US industry. MetroPCS disappeared as an independent entity and Leap Wireless is poised to do so as well. US Cellular is selling off spectrum and has been losing customers for several quarters. AT&T's raft of smaller deals also gobbled up a handful of regional Tier 3 carriers. Yet for all the clamoring for more spectrum, the list of bidders for the upcoming Jan 22 FCC auction of the PCS H Block is as dominated by individual investors as established wireless companies. Sprint and T-Mobile both indicated in November they will pass on the H Block auction, clearing the way for Dish Network to be the leading bidder. Meanwhile, the FCC recently decided to move the start of the 600 MHz broadcast TV spectrum incentive auctions to mid-2015 from a previously scheduled start of sometime in 2014 to make sure the agency gets the auction's technology and policy correct. The final rules for the 600 MHz auction, including what restrictions might be put on Verizon and AT&T, could shape the industry for years to come.

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