The dragon’s hoard is truly open now. After releasing airwaves from its huge cache of unused spectrum to T-Mobile and Verizon, Dish has also made an agreement with AT&T that will greatly boost AT&T 4G LTE performance across most major cities for the next 60 days while we cope with the COVID-19 crisis.
Satellite firm Dish has been buying up and caching public airwaves for years, stringing along regulators as it claims to be always almost about to build a mobile network. As it’s finally becoming a mobile carrier as part of the Sprint/T-Mobile merger deal, those airwaves will go to use in the future.
For now, though, Dish is gaining some goodwill by letting more established wireless carriers use its spectrum. Each carrier is getting a chunk that fits with its existing network. T-Mobile is getting low-band Band 71 spectrum; T-Mobile is the only one currently using that. Verizon is getting some Band 66 AWS-3 spectrum, which everybody uses.
AT&T’s agreement involves 20MHz of Band 66 spectrum, which Dish owns nationwide, along with 6MHz of Band 29 spectrum. These are both frequency bands AT&T phones already use; only AT&T uses Band 29. Provided you have a relatively recent phone, you won’t need to do anything to experience better speeds and coverage.
This is going to result in significant improvements in places that rely on Band 66, which is most cities and suburbs, as long as your cell site is properly equipped. I’d anticipate at least a 20Mbps in real-life 4G LTE speeds, although we’ll have to see how that plays out.
Like with Dish’s other spectrum loans, AT&T should be able to implement this within a few days, at least on some sites. Earlier this week, Dish, Comcast, and investment firms lent T-Mobile a giant chunk of low-band spectrum; Verizon got a boost from two companies controlled by Dish; and US Cellular got spectrum licensed to Advantage Spectrum in four states.
Much of this spectrum was auctioned off years ago, and the situation highlights how much of our nation’s airwaves are being hoarded by companies that haven’t offered service on them—not just Dish and Comcast, but investment firms like Northwood Ventures and MC Partners.
Perhaps after the COVID-19 crisis is over, the FCC will pay more attention to making sure that the nation’s limited spectrum resources are being held by companies that intend to actually use them for Americans’ benefit, as opposed to just sitting on them to make a profit on resale.