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Everybody knows that the American airspace is running out of unused radio spectrum. The spectrum crunch was a main driver of AT&T's (NYSE: T ) failed attempt to buy rival T-Mobile USA last year, and LightSquared wouldn't be in life-threatening trouble if broadband-quality radio licenses were easy to come by. And perhaps you recall the widely covered auction that released formerly TV-only spectrum chunks to the highest bidder back in 2008? That was another by-product of the dwindling wireless license space.
The government really wants to remove that roadblock to innovation and sprightly wireless commerce. In that spirit, he National Telecommunications and Information Administration, or NTIA for short, has located another slice of radio waves to put up for auction.
This time, the original licenses belong to a smattering of government entities such as the military and law enforcement. The slice that's up for reassignment also butts up against the widely used 1900-MHz band for GSM signals, where all the major networks offer 3G services today. That includes GSM operators T-Mobile and AT&T, but also CDMA networks from Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S ) and Verizon (NYSE: VZ ) . With the licenses so conveniently positioned, it shouldn't be terribly difficult to modify existing infrastructure equipment to support these almost-familiar frequencies.
But don't hold your breath waiting for an explosion of high-speed wireless services here. This week's announcement is more of an intent than a solid plan, and the NTIA hasn't even formally recommended any action to the FCC on this. Moreover, some of the incumbent owners of the frequencies might take a decade or more to move out. Steady as she goes, captain.
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