C Spire Wireless’ initial deployment of Long Term Evolution (LTE) base stations will not be configured to support its 700MHz spectrum allocation, a representative of equipment vendor Alcatel-Lucent has revealed to Wireless Week. Instead, the carrier is expected to use refarmed 1700MHz advanced wireless services (AWS) spectrum and 1900MHz PCS spectrum to offer 4G services. However, Sandy Motley, Alca-Lu’s chief operations officer for its wireless division, admitted ‘it’s not a difficult thing to do’ to add support for 700MHz spectrum to the network infrastructure. ‘Really, the key driver is the device, how many bands are on the device and what your expectations are in terms of roaming. That’s really where the planning starts’.
Last week C Spire confirmed that it had selected the French-US vendor to build and deploy the first stage of its LTE network in Mississippi. The cellco’s previously announced USD60 million 4G network is expected to cover around 2,700 square miles across 20 markets, serving a potential customer base of 1.2 million. Last month C Spire confirmed that it had installed and tested all major core network elements, completed the second phase of base station installations at all 360 LTE sites and integrated Ethernet backhaul at around 70% of all cell towers.
However, C Spire risks significant Federal Communications Commission (FCC) penalties if it does not put its 700MHz licences to use by June 2013. The regulator’s requirements for the band stipulate that all licensees of the 700MHz Lower A and B blocks must cover 35% of the area covered by their spectrum by June 2013. If operators fail to meet the deadline, the amount of time they will have to reach the next deployment deadline will be reduced by two years, giving them eight years instead of ten to cover 70% of the area attached to their licences. A number of other operators have found themselves hamstrung by ongoing interference issues surrounding the lower 700MHz spectrum band. Mobile giant AT&T Mobility has previously put in place its own distinct and separate ‘band class’ for LTE devices that would not interoperate with the services deployed by regional carriers in other parts of the 700MHz band, although a loose alliance of regional operators, including C Spire, US Cellular, Cavalier Wireless, Continuum 700, King Street Wireless, MetroPCS and Vulcan Wireless continue to question AT&T’s assertion, labelling the larger company’s claims ‘unfounded’ in a joint FCC filing submitted in May. For its part AT&T acquired 227 B block licences in the FCC’s 2008 spectrum auction, paying a total of USD6.6 billion.