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A Visual Guide to AWS

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So what is everyone going to do with this spiffy new spectrum? In most cases, the answer is pretty simple. Most companies will deploy current 3G technologies - such as EVDO revision A and WCDMA+HSDPA - in AWS spectrum.

T-Mobile has already announced plans to build a WCDMA + HSDPA network using the AWS band. In fact, they started planning and building the network even before the auction. For reasons mentioned earlier, it shouldn't be too difficult for phone makers to create GSM/WCDMA phones that support WCDMA+HSDPA in the AWS band.

Although Cingular hasn't announced their specific plans just yet, it would make sense for them to deploy WCDMA+HSDPA in AWS as well. They would be able to take advantage of the same phones and network equipment as T-Mobile. Certainly it wouldn't make sense for them to deploy GSM in AWS, nor would it make much sense to use it for some new technology, since their winnings don't cover the whole country.

Verizon will almost certainly deploy CDMA technology in AWS... eventually. Verizon may choose to wait a while before deploying anything in AWS. They claim to have ample existing spectrum already, and they're one of the few companies rich enough to afford to spend $2.8 billion on spectrum and sit on it for a few years until they need it at a later date.

Regardless of what Verizon does, we're sure to see CDMA phones for the AWS band one way or another, since MetroPCS, Cricket, and US Cellular all use CDMA technology as well.

What specific type of CDMA technology those companies will deploy is not yet clear. Verizon's new AWS spectrum overlaps with their existing spectrum, so they could easily use it exclusively for data using EVDO. The other companies don't have that option. They will be using AWS spectrum for all-new coverage areas, so they need a technology that will support regular voice calls as well.

They may opt to deploy "2G" CDMA 1xRTT for voice, plus EVDO for data, just like they have in existing spectrum. Or they may choose to deploy EVDO rev. A exclusively, using a special kind of VoIP technology to handle voice calls.

To support all of this, companies like Qualcomm have already announced chipsets supporting the AWS band.

The wild card is SpectrumCo, which has publicly announced that they basically don't know what they're going to do with their new spectrum. In announcing plans, they mostly talked about "many options and significant flexibility". They say they might use it in conjunction with their other joint venture to offer Sprint phone service bundled with cable service... or do something completely different.

So what's the bottom line? For T-Mobile, AWS means the ability to finally launch 3G. For Verizon and Cingular, it means the ability to continue expanding 3G and offering more popular 3G services. For MetroPCS, Cricket, and US Cellular, it means dramatically expanding coverage to whole new areas. For SpectrumCo... who knows.

In the end, AWS doesn't represent any kind of paradigm shift for the industry, but it does enable the industry to continue growing in a healthy way. It allows all players to serve more customers, and offer them more.


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