Getting Sirius(XM) About AT&T Cell Sites

AT&T is filing applications with local governments to modify existing cell sites to add a wire frame parabolic antenna at some of its sites.  The application also shows the addition of signal splitters (or combiners) and multiple power amplifiers.   In the applications that I’ve seen so far, there’s no mention as to the service that is being provided by (or is it to) this new antenna.

What the heck is going on here?

Well, I have a very Sirius answer for you.

AT&T is adding re-transmission services for SiriusXM radio to some of its cell sites.  Are they telling the jurisdictions that re-transmission is for a completely different non-carrier?  Well, so far unless pressed hard, all I’ve seen is a big fat NO to that.

Sirius-ly, what’s the story?

SiriusXM satellites are in orbits that are occasionally blocked for their mobile users. Why? Primarily because of tall building and hills that place physical barriers between the satellite and a car’s satellite receiver.  If the blockage lasts for more than a few seconds, drop-outs will start to occur.  In urban areas, such as here in L.A., rows of tall buildings are a real issue.

How does SiriusXM deal with this?

Historically, SiriusXM has used terrestrial relay stations that receive the satellite signal at high points and they re-transmit the signals via narrower beam width antennas shooting up and down highways with blockages on the south side.

Guess what?

A heck of lot of AT&T cell sites already do the same thing along highways, and into neighborhoods that are otherwise sometimes blocked by tall buildings.

And, on top of that, AT&T has a lot of antennas with spare transmission ports waiting to be used.  That’s what SiriusXM is going to do…use those spare ports, no doubt for a tidy fee.  Whatever the fee, however, it’s 99.999% likely that the collocation charges levied by AT&T will be less than SiriusXM leasing its own re-transmission sites.

Here’s a basic block diagram I’ve pieced together to example how all this works:

(Block diagram by JLK: Click on the image above to enlarge it.)

AT&T is claiming that these SiriusXM site modifications are subject to the expedited treatment under Section 6409(a).

Well, maybe

What I’ve seen so far, at least at camo AT&T sites, is that these SiriusXM add-on installations can bust the camouflage provision that drops a modification out of Section 6409(a) and back into major-mod land.  There are some other problems with these SiriusXM projects as well, but I’ll save those tidbits for our firm’s clients.

And now you know a lot more about this very Sirius AT&T issue.




RCR Reports AT&T Plan for New Small Cells Block by Block

Martha DeGrasse of RCR reports on AT&T’s plans for small cells.  She quotes Arunabha Ghosh, AT&T Labs’ Director of Wireless Communications, who said, “If you want to use 500 megahertz of spectrum and deliver 100 megabits per second, you have to have the sites like 200 meters apart maximum, 100 meters for autonomous vehicles,” he said. “A city block in Austin is 200-250 meters. You are talking about several small cells deployed every block to support this 100 megabits per second that we need.”

With four national carriers (at least today), now you’re talking about many hundreds of thousands of new small cells, mostly if not entirely in the public right of ways and utility easements, at the rate of 4 sites per block in densely populated areas.

I say, “Look ma…no hands on the wheel, but ONE HECK of a lot of small cell sites!”




Permits? We’re AT&T and we don’t need no stinkin’ permits!

TreasuremadreDobbs: “If you’re the cell phone company where are your permits?”
Gold Hat: “Permits? We ain’t got no permits. We don’t need no permits! I don’t have to show you any stinkin’ permits!”     

     -with apologies to B. Traven and then John Huston

It seems that Ridgewood, New Jersey is non-to-happy with AT&T Wireless at the moment.

Can you guess why?

Well, according to a published report on, it seems like AT&T Wireless decided that it would forgo actually pulling permits for a COW (Cell on Wheels) which it parked and then set up at a local gas station in town.

A portion of the new report is telling. . .

According to AT&T’s public relations representative Ellen Webner, the tower, called a cell site on wheels or COW, is “in a temporary location while we work with the local community, zoning, on a permanent location.”

She did not comment when asked to explain why the village was not previously notified by AT&T about the tower.

“We are now working with the town through zoning and going through all proper procedures,” Webner said.

I enjoyed Ms. Webner’s use of the word “now” in that last sentence.

– Read the entire story at THIS LINK.  Opens in a new window.


Which Way L.A. Explores Cell Tower Siting Issues

whichwaylaWarren Olney, host of Which Way L.A. on KCRW (NPR in Southern California) devoted a segment of today’s program to wireless tower siting.

Titled, “The No Longer Hidden Cost of Wireless Technology” Warren focus on the looming debate about more cell sites closer to their customers.

Richard Stein, a Los Angeles resident with an existing AT&T wireless site on a utility pole in front of his home was interviewed about AT&T’s plans to quadruple the size of the antennas, and to place a controlled environment vault (“CEV”) in the right-of-way near the pole.

AT&T declined to be interviewed for the show regarding its cell site in front of Mr. Stein’s home.

Warren spoke with me about technology and legal issues related to wireless siting, and also about the pending FCC Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that could reshape the entire landscape regarding cell siting regulations in the U.S. We also covered Section 6409(a).

Robert Jystad, the incoming president of the California Wireless Association spoke on why carriers need to bring their services closer to homes and end-users. He gave the facts and figures about the wireless society. He also alluded to, but did not outright say that Mr. Stein’s opposition to AT&T’s plan was for a reason other than aesthetics, which Mr. Stein rejected. As a side note, you might be surprised to learn that I was the one that recommended to the show’s producer, Evan George that Mr. Jystad be interviewed for the segment. It seemed important to make sure an industry voice had the opportunity to weigh in to the discussion.

The 16 minute segment is now on line. You may listen to the audio segment via the show page:

This was a fun experience, and one that I hope will not be my last.





Missouri Cell Tower Industry Driven Laws Struck Down by Judge

Missouri Coat of Arms
Missouri Coat of Arms

According to a published reports, Cole County Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce has issued a permanent injunction and declared the two laws as being invalid.  This follows the preliminary injunction she issued on Aug. 27 staying the laws (HB 331) from taking effect as scheduled the next day.

Judge Joyce ruled that the HB 331 was flawed procedurally, by violating state constitutional provisions that bills contain only one subject that is clearly expressed in its title,  and that lawmakers cannot amend them to change a bills’ original purpose.

Read more here:

This is great news for local governments in Missouri, which battled against ‘Super 6409 + Super Shot Clock’ rules promoted by AT&T on behalf of the wireless industry.  Hopefully the Missouri Attorney General’s office will not appeal the ruling.  It has until Dec. 2 to make that decision.

For more on HB 331, including the full text of the law, see THIS POST here at


AT&T Wireless: It’s All About the Bandwidth, Dummy!

Cricket_LeapWell, as we all know by know, it turns out that T-Mobile would not feast on the insect.  Rather, AT&T Wireless bit the Bug. Yum!

Cricket will go to AT&T, but that’s a bit of a misstatement. This deal has nothing to do about acquiring cell sites. This deal has nothing to do about keeping the Bug’s subscribers. AT&T intends to eat the guts of the Bug…it’s bandwidth…and spit out most if not all of the exoskeleton (the existing cell sites).

This deal, like most of the deals today, has everything to do about acquiring frequencies. Bandwidth… Black Gold… Texas Tea… Wireless Whiskey…

Okay, I’m being a bit dramatic and channeling Buddy Ebsen, but the fact is that bandwidth means more ‘go real fast’ for the customers, and more ‘go real fast’ for future customers.

The electromagnetic spectrum chart below makes it clear.

Spectrum poster by Randall Munroe ( Used with permission.
Spectrum poster by Randall Munroe Used with permission. Click on the image to enlarge.

Bandwidth is a scarce commodity, and lots of entities are vying to occupy its valuable slivers. Buying bandwidth from current licensees makes more sense–and is lots faster–than bidding on them in future FCC auctions.

More bandwidth…faster…less competition. Now there’s a recipe for success.

For more on why the Eat-a-Bug deal makes sense for AT&T, and is yet another sign of the bandwidth acquisition wars, see AGL Magazine’s insightful article on the topic: CLICK HERE.


PS: I think Randall Munroe is brilliant. Read his stuff. It’s deep.


Sprint(ing) Forward to 800 MHz LTE

The FCC has granted Sprint’s request to allow it to deploy LTE services in its 800 MHz band assignments.

This is a big deal, both for Sprint and for LTE deployment as the de facto 4G-ish standard.

The FCC’s decision (found HERE) allows Sprint to re-purpose its Nextel 800 MHz spectrum (the old iDEN band) and bond it with Sprint’s 1900 MHz spectrum to create a ‘super LTE’ channel (my term, not theirs).  Mathematically, this is represented by the complex formula:

zoom(800,000,000hz) x zoom(1,900,000,000hz) = ZOOM(WOW)MBs

Okay, maybe that’s not a legit math formula, but you get the idea.  Bonding two high speed data bands is better than having two stand-alone high speed data bands.

This is a huge deal for Sprint as it continues to decommission its old Nextel iDEN services and sites as it deploys its Network Vision project.  Network Vision is Sprint’s ‘one-box-does-all’ base station solution that allows it to communicate on multiple bands and using multiple signal protocols for both itself, and for electronic collocators it will charge to deploy on its upgrade cell sites.

For the LTE community, the Commission’s decision signals its intent to relax the existing technical rules that current prevent deployment of 4G-ish services in the cellular and ESMR bands.  AT&T and Verizon will likely be even happier than Sprint by the ruling as it will give those firms a legal path forward to phase ultimately out cellular on 860 MHz and bond LTE with their other band assignments, especially 700 MHz.

(Bonding 700 MHz and 800 MHz services makes a lot of technical sense as the signal propagation of those two bands is similar, where the propagation of bonding 800 MHz to 1,900 MHz are dissimilar.)

For LTE-supporters, the Commission’s ruling is a much clearer path forward for dominance of that communications scheme given that the Commission’s door-opening will make LTE and LTE band-bonding even more important.


Might Apple buy Sprint?

Okay, it sounds wild, but let’s look at this for a bit…

Sprint has committed $15B to Apple in connection with securing rights to market the iPhone to Sprint’s subscribers (let’s not talk about the newest Apple product, the iHeatingPad). That’s a lot of cash, and I’ll bet that Apple’s contract leave virtually no room for Sprint to get out from under the weight of an 800 pound Apple.

At the same time, the $9B Sprint was expecting from LightSquared seems to drifted away. This raises very serious questions about the future of Sprint’s touted Network Vision upgrade. As a result, Sprint’s plans to shutter some 30,000 cell sites, relying on the Network Vision project to make it possible…must have dropped to ‘maybe’ status, too.

Clearwire. That word has turned into a blackhole of cash for Sprint, and Google just helped further devalue Sprint’s, ah, majority investment by dumping the Google-held shares at a 90% write off. WiMax is not Sprint’s path forward–LTE is. Clearwire may be too late to Sprint’s party.

Sprint’s Board of Directors last month vetoed Dan Hesse’s plan to buy MetroPCS (for a 30% premium, no less). That puts Dan Hesse’s future outlook at Sprint at a 30% deficit (others say that number is even worse). Will there be new blood on the head of the pin, much less new confusions over the direction the pin is pointing? Hey, how about T-Mobile buying MetroPCS?

This month, Sprint seems to have tried…and failed…to get a network sharing agreement with T-Mobile, according to the Wall Street Journal. I guess that shots a hole in my idea about a SprinT-Mobile merger.

Let’s not forget the grandest of Sprint’s Grand Experiments: Nextel. Oh, you want to forget about that? Likely Sprint does, too.

With research firm Sanford Bernstein dropping its rating on Sprint, citing that Sprint might visit BK land, the Bad News Band keeps marching on. For a thoughtful look at this particular issue, see the SeekingAlpha story of March 20th by clicking here.

Now let’s consider Apple.

Apple has attained the status of a ‘mythical creature’ that can seemingly devour all that blocks it path.

Apple has been fanatical about controlling, to the n-th degree, every element of its users experiences with all of the Apple devices. It controls the look and feel of the user experience, and via the App Store all of the applications on iPhones that have not been subject to a jailbreak, as well as iPads of various operating temperatures.

It must peeve Apple that it decided to confine its iPhone and iPad devices originally on an exclusive basis to AT&T to run on that carrier’s less-than-robust and less-than-adequate-capacity network, and one that actually gave up spectrum in the failed T-Mobile love affair.

Now, at least, Verizon subscribers have a better chance at being able to enjoy close to 3G speeds with their iSomethings.

Oh, yes, there’s that cash reserve thing for Apple. It’s sitting on more cash than the U.S. Treasury, and since last Summer it has been the most valuable company you’ll find in the U.S., and maybe anywhere in the entire galaxy.

If Apple thinks about it, it can have its cake and eat it, too: Buy Sprint, fund and complete Network Vision, deploy 4G at real 4G speed, and dump all of the Sprint phones save for Apple iSomethings. Using the software defined radios of Network Vision, Apple can actually build a wireless network that is optimized for data (but still including the voice app that defines LTE). Siri may be the first step to Skynet, albeit with a programmed sense of humor. (How much wood can a woodchuck chuck? See here.)

For Apple, a Sprint purchase would yield it monthly cash flow that can be put back into expanding and optimizing the “Apple Wireless” Network Vision. And given Sprint’s majority ownership in Clearwire (and the 106ish MHz Clearwire controls in the U.S.), Apple would have a real playground to expand data capacity and speeds.

Maybe Apple might make apply the principles of the iTunes Store to Sprint to shift the marketing of Sprint services to the faceless online monolith. Buy a phone and activate service online. Forget about pins dropping.

It just seems right for Apple to continue its quest to control everything its users see and do with the iSomethings now and in the future by controlling its own data delivery network. At the same time, it can keep feeding iSomethings to Verizon, AT&T, and any other carrier that can’t afford to be left in Apple’s iDust.

With the passing of Steve Jobs, the direct minutia-level control he seemed to exert on Apple (at least according to Isaacson) has also passed. This may free up the current management of Apple to take the leap (no, not Leap Wireless) to controlling even more of the user experience, but from a new distance, all without asking “WWSD?”

Of course, Apple might buy T-Mobile instead–or as well–and do more or less the same thing, but that’s a thought best left for a future post.


Buddy, can you spare $9B?

Please feed the T-Mobile Kitty. (Photo illustration by Jonathan Kramer)

So T-Mobile, recently left at the alter by AT&T, is now looking for $9B to build out a LTE network that can compete with AT&T.

T-Mobile has a great start towards its goal when you consider that AT&T gave it $4B as a parting gift.  If you have some loose change or small bills, please drop it in Carly’s cup.  Heck, all she needs is another $5B.  Easy!

$9B’s a lot of investment money simply to split the market even more than it is, today.  It’s also interesting that T-Mobile seems determined to join the rest of the world by going to 4G via LTE rather than via its current industry-isolating path of HPSA+ (also known as “it’s 4G if we say it’s 4G”).

I continue to believe that T-Mobile will either join forces with Sprint (can you say “SprinT-Mobile”?) or T-Mobile will acquire one or several smaller regional carriers.  How about “Hello…Hello…Hello” for example.  A dark horse: Maybe Deutsche Telekom, T-Mobile’s German parent will sell off its entire worldwide wireless network to some small country…or maybe to Microsoft.

Only time…and money…will tell.


The Spectrum Dilemma: What’s a Carrier to do?

AT&T’s intended takeover of T-Mobile was supposed to give AT&T access and control of badly needed spectrum. The demands on spectrum are growing faster than Apple can sell iPhones. Unfortunately, while AT&T was busy trying to consume the 4th largest wireless provider in the United States and fighting with the Department of Justice, Verizon was quietly moving to buy up the undeveloped spectrum held by the major cable providers (a completely different bedtime story for the DOJ to dream about…as they apparently are starting to do).

The result? Verizon’s spectrum purchases have gobbled the available spectrum that might have otherwise been available for an AT&T purchase.

T-Mobile, the long-suffering ‘we don’t have enough spectrum’ player, also missed out on the opportunity to buy spectrum from the cable providers.

Both AT&T and T-Mobile are desperate for spectrum, so what are they to do?

The DOJ, as we have all learned, has a big problem when the number 2 and number 4 providers attempt to merge (something having to do with a little thing called Antitrust).

Might the next baby step for AT&T be to acquire MetroPCS? Maybe that’s T-Mobile’s next bid, too.

It makes sense for both AT&T and T-Mobile to be interested in acquiring MetroPCS because it has a nationwide PCS footprint that is only growing with its all-you-can-eat, no contract approach.

Or maybe the next step is more of a LEAP (Wireless, that is, which has been rumored to be an acquisition target).

Two things are for sure: First, AT&T needs more paired frequencies, and they need them yesterday Second, T-Mobile either has to mate with one or more smaller regional carriers, or try mating with Sprint. AT&T’s parting gift to T-Mobile of $4B for the failed marriage would make a lovely trousseau.