A combined Sprint and T-Mobile US would be well positioned to build a “monster” 4G LTE network, OpenSignal CEO Brendan Gill told Mobile World Live (MWL).
According to Gill, whose company provides crowdsourced network benchmark data, one of the first things the new operator would do is shutdown Sprint’s legacy 2G and 3G networks. The move would free up nearly 40MHz of 1.9GHz PCS spectrum which could be refarmed for new 4G services.
“That’s the equivalent of an entirely new high-capacity LTE system, rivalling the 4G network T-Mobile has already built in the AWS (1700/2100MHz) band,” Gill (pictured, left) observed. The merged operator could then “bond those two networks together” using carrier aggregation “and get a super-sized network,” he added.
Gill noted the merged operator could also aggregate the 600MHz airwaves T-Mobile recently won in a Federal Communications Commission spectrum auction. T-Mobile spent $8 billion and walked away from those proceedings with an average of around 30MHz in markets nationwide. Gill said a network combining the spectrum bands would be capable of supporting theoretical download speeds of 300Mb/s nationwide and up to 450Mb/s in certain markets.
While real-world speeds are often only a fraction of the theoretical total, Gill told MWL the new network could “easily double” the average speeds T-Mobile offers today.
To show what a combined network might look like, Mosaik, a company known for its spectrum coverage maps, this week revealed a new “merger” map depicting the aggregate spectrum holdings of T-Mobile and Sprint (see image, below, click to enlarge).
Perks for rivals
However, Gill noted it is unlikely the FCC would approve a merger between T-Mobile and Sprint without requiring the operators to divest at least some of their spectrum holdings.
A key target, he said, would be spectrum in cities where the combined assets are particularly substantial. Other operators, including top rivals Verizon and AT&T, would be the likely beneficiaries of such a move, as they would probably have an opportunity to buy those airwaves.
Another scenario which could trigger spectrum changing hands is a contract clause. By way of example, Gill pointed to a failed AT&T bid to acquire T-Mobile in 2011. When the US government signalled it would block the deal and the companies dropped the effort, a clause in the merger agreement forced AT&T to hand over some of its AWS spectrum to T-Mobile. Specifically, T-Mobile exited the failed transaction with new spectrum in a total of 128 markets, including 12 of the top 20 in the nation. Given Sprint’s massive trove of 2.5GHz spectrum and T-Mobile’s new 600MHz holdings, both companies have the potential to make gains even if a deal ultimately falls through.
“We don’t know what specifics Sprint and T-Mobile may have negotiated, but every time a merger deal is struck there is always an opportunity to redraw the spectrum map,” Gill said.