The nation’s No. 1 airwave hoarder is volunteering a chunk of wireless spectrum it’s been sitting on for five years so Verizon customers can get better 4G LTE service during the COVID-19 crisis.
Two companies controlled by satellite TV firm Dish agreed to lend unused AWS airwaves to Verizon for the next 60 days to improve capacity, according to a press release from the FCC.
Nationwide, Dish owns 5x5MHz of paired spectrum in many of the nation’s major cities, and a big ol’ chunk of 10×10 in Minneapolis, parts of Ohio, and parts of Iowa. This can be included in LTE band 66, which is supported by almost all of the phones on the US market.
Dish also owns nationwide AWS LTE spectrum in band 70, which current phones do not support.
Technically, the spectrum is owned by companies called Northstar Wireless and SNR Wireless, but a federal court ruled in 2017 that these companies were controlled by Dish during the spectrum auction process.
These areas will get the biggest overall performance boost. (Source: Spectrum Omega)
This is going to have a much smaller effect on performance than the massive expansion of T-Mobile’s low-band 600MHz capacity, which T-Mobile is getting from Dish, Comcast, and predatory investment firms that have been sitting on airwaves for years. But it’ll still help. You’re less likely to see noticeably higher speeds than you are to see fewer blocked connections.
You don’t need to do anything to your phone to take advantage of the new spectrum, although it helps to have as recent a phone as possible, because more recent phones are more able to combine different channels of spectrum into one connection.
Users of Verizon’s low-cost plan, Visible, will also be able to use the new spectrum. Visible has a $40/month plan with an unlimited hotspot feature, which is capped at 5Mbps speeds for only one device at a time. But even at that speed, it’s a good way to get a student online who doesn’t otherwise have access.
Time to Deal With the Hoarders
Just like with the T-Mobile news, and with a similar move by US Cellular this week, this highlights our nation’s problem of spectrum hoarding—how valuable airwaves have been held for years by companies that had no real plans to use them to provide service to Americans, against the terms of the licenses.
The biggest offender has been Dish, which has managed to tease and confuse regulators by claiming it’s always about to launch a network. At least now, much of Dish’s spectrum will go to good use as part of the Sprint/T-Mobile merger, as one of the terms of the merger is that the two companies together will offer service using Dish’s hoard.
The true offenders, though, are investment firms like Columbia Capital, Bluewater Wireless, Northwood Ventures, and MC Partners, which buy licenses just so they can sit on them and later resell them for a profit. These vultures pervert the purpose of auctioning off this public good, which is that companies are supposed to be using the spectrum to offer information and entertainment services to Americans.
I’ll have more coverage on spectrum hoarders soon.