FCC Grants T-Mobile, Verizon Extra Spectrum During Pandemic

As data usage soars during the coronavirus pandemic, the big carriers are seeing their 4G LTE networks stressed to the max. On Sunday, the Federal Communications Commission gave permission to T-Mobile to use 600MHz spectrum on loan from Dish, Comcast, NewLevel and other companies for 60 days. In fact, Dish is allowing AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon to utilize some of its unused spectrum to enhance and speed up their 4G LTE networks. AT&T customers, for example, could see an “up to 20Mbps uptick in data performance.”

The Verge quotes FCC chair Ajit Pai saying that, “this temporary authority will help T-Mobile better serve customers who, like all of us, are making significant adjustments to their daily lives to minimize in-person interactions and slow the spread of COVID-19.” U.S. Cellular is also getting additional spectrum in four U.S. states.

Although none of the major carriers “have suffered outages or disruptive downtime during the COVID-19 outbreak thus far … it’s good to see them reinforcing their networks however possible,” says The Verge, which noted that, “a lot of us are heavily leaning on Wi-Fi during these long days and evenings at home.” Carriers have also “agreed to drop their data caps and refrain from disconnecting customers over late bills.”

Before Dish became the fourth “major” carrier as part of the deal for T-Mobile and Sprint to merge, it had “often been criticized for hoarding spectrum and not putting it to any actual use, and even risked fines from the FCC for failing to build an actual network.” T-Mobile also just stated that it is still “prepared to close the merger with Sprint even as financial markets are in turmoil due to the coronavirus pandemic.” Despite a challenge from several states, “all necessary U.S. regulators have already approved [the merger].”

Engadget reports that, after the FCC “granted T-Mobile access to additional spectrum … now it’s done the same for Verizon,” via a STA (special temporary authority) that will allow it “to operate for 60 days in spectrum licensed to Northstar and SNR, in order to provide extra capacity to Verizon customers across the U.S.” It predicts that, “it’s likely that other carriers will soon be making their own applications for additional capacity.”