AT&T, America's second largest wireless operator, owns 30 MHz of spectrum in the so called “WCS band”. Translation: 2.3 GHz. They've been wanting to use that spectrum to deploy 4G LTE for a while now, but they've faced opposition from Sirius XM, a satellite radio company that uses the same band to run their service. Earlier this year, AT&T and Sirius got together to figure out how to solve their differences. They came up with a proposal that was then submitted to the FCC for approval. According to AT&T's public policy blog, that proposal has been approved.
Here's how it's going to work: AT&T will use 20 MHz of the WCS spectrum they own, leaving the other 10 MHz as a sort of “buffer” to prevent interference. When will AT&T actually turn on their first WCS cell tower? The company doesn't say. The real important question here is when will AT&T start selling devices that can use this new frequency? Right now every 4G LTE phone sold by AT&T uses the 700 MHz band. That means when this additional spectrum gets utilized, those phones that are already on the market will not be able to take advantage of the added capacity.
What should Verizon's response be to this decision? They're probably not even concerned. Verizon owns a ton of spectrum in the 1700 MHz band that they plan to use to build out their 4G LTE network. But more importantly, Verizon has publicly stated that by the end of next year, their whole network will be 4G LTE enabled. They recently turned on their 400th 4G LTE market, so we're confident that they'll reach their goal.
Does none of this matter to you because both AT&T and Verizon are too expensive? If you're willing to sacrifice 4G LTE speeds, then you should check out Straight Talk. They're an MVNO that resells access to both AT&T's and T-Mobile's network. For less than $50 per month you get unlimited everything, which is a bargain considering the big boys charge twice that.