Verizon and AT&T have finally been granted full access to the 5G C-Band spectrum they acquired in 2021.

The freeing up of the spectrum comes as satellite operators cleared it for use by mobile operators.

The AT&T Building, San Jose
– Sebastian Moss

Both operators state that the additional capacity of the C-Band spectrum will enable for greater capacity and data rate increases in their respective 5G networks.

Back in 2021, Verizon spent $45.5 billion on 5G C-Band spectrum during the auction, while AT&T spent $23.4bn.

T-Mobile has focused on the C-Band spectrum to a lesser extent, paying $9.3 billion during the auction, mainly as it owns strong mid-band spectrum holdings.

The issue around using the spectrum usage is that it's not just used by mobile operators, but also by satellite operators, including SES and Intelsat. This meant that the US operators had to gain clearance to have full access to their C-Band spectrum.

In a statement, Verizon noted that its C-Band license which is for between 140-200 MHz in all available markets, has been given the go-ahead to be deployed across the US.

Verizon states that it has now access to a minimum of 140 megahertz of total spectrum in the contiguous United States and an average of 161 megahertz nationwide; that’s bandwidth in every available market, 406 markets in all, while it has up to 200 megahertz in 158 mostly rural markets covering nearly 40 million people.

"Early access to the remainder of the C-Band spectrum puts us another four months ahead of schedule from our original projections," said Joe Russo, EVP & president of global networks and technology for Verizon.

"This additional spectrum will make 5G Ultra Wideband available to even more Americans, and will open up more availability of our home and business broadband solutions. The more spectrum we deploy on our network, the more capacity we add for our customers to connect.”

Up until now, Verizon had deployed 60MHz of C-Band spectrum across 46 markets in 2022.

As for AT&T, the operator has so far rolled out its licensed C-Band spectrum by an average of 80MHz in each market, but now has access to a minimum of 100MHz of mid-band spectrum in the contiguous US and an average of 120MHz nationwide.

The carrier has been deploying a combination of C-Band and 3.45 GHz across the country, with its 5G network mid-band network now covering more than 175 million people.

It hasn't just been the need for clearance from satellite operators that have hampered the C-Band spectrum in the US.

In late 2021, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) outlined its fears over spectrum in the C-Band, warning that 5G transmission within this band might interfere with flight safety.

A subsequent skirmish with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) occurred, but the fallout from this was enough to delay AT&T and Verizon’s planned rollout of 5G services in the C-Band near airports.

The FAA noted that its radar altimeters use spectrum in the 4.2GHz to 4.4GHz band, while US operators were anticipated to operate uncomfortably close to that in C-Band n77 spanning 3.3GHz to 4.2GHz.

Subsequently, AT&T and Verizon agreed to delay the full rollout of their 5G networks until July of this year to allow airlines more time to mitigate fears of interference.

A deadline to extend this delay was not pushed ahead by the US government, despite efforts from the FAA.

Incentivizing the satellite operators

Intelsat revealed it will receive nearly $3.7 billion in the fourth quarter after completing C-Band frequency clearing.

“Intelsat’s C-Band transition facilitates broader 5G services in the United States while strengthening our financial position,” said Intelsat CEO Dave Wajsgras. “We reached this milestone well ahead of expectations.”

The FCC C-Band Transition Order set a deadline to clear the lower portion of the band by December 2025.

To further entice satellite operators to complete clearing earlier, the FCC offered incentive payments to satellite operators if cleared before December 2023.

SES has also completed all of its Phase II C-Band clearing and relocation requirements, which has seen the company launch five new satellites, repacked all of its C-Band downlink services in the continental United States (CONUS) into the upper 200MHz of the C-Band and relocating all associated incumbent Earth stations throughout CONUS into the upper 200 MHz of the C-Band.

By meeting the requirements ahead of the December 2023 deadline, the company is set to the accelerated relocation payment of $2.99 billion.

Eutelsat, Telesat, and Claro are also clearing their C-Band satellite operations.