Verizon will improve its 4G capacity in New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Indiana, and Kentucky thanks to a deal with two companies you've probably never heard of—Spotlight Media and MCG—according to Brian Goemmer from Allnet Insights.
Spotlight and MCG are controlled by the family of Michael Gelfand, a Florida doctor with a long history of investing in wireless.
The transfer generally involves a small, 5x5 megahertz slice of the old 1900MHz "PCS" band, although Verizon is getting more spectrum in the Southern Tier of New York, according to this map from Allnet, which tracks spectrum holdings and transfers on a daily basis.
The deal also involves a small amount of 1700MHz AWS spectrum in Louisiana, not shown on this map.
The Spotlight deal follows T-Mobile making a three-year deal with investor Columbia Capital for a broad swathe of 600MHz airwaves that T-Mobile is using to enhance both its 4G and 5G services.
AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon have all been borrowing airwaves from a range of investors during the COVID crisis.
That arrangement was on a time-limited basis, but it looks like the carriers are trying to make their grip on those airwaves more secure.
(Goemmer of Allnet has a full report on those temporary arrangements.)
The Spotlight and Columbia deals both show the influence of investors in the spectrum auction world.
The FCC gives discounts to "small businesses" that bid for spectrum.
Smart investors can nab airwaves with the small-business discount, sit on them for a while, and then flip the leases at a profit to a large wireless carrier.
Spotlight, for example, got a 25 percent discount in the 600MHz auction.
Gelfand has long dabbled in the wireless industry.
He and his family control a small wireless carrier in the Buffalo, NY area called Blue Wireless as well as a spectrum investment company in Canada called Blue Canada Wireless, and he tried to invest in a new mobile carrier in Israel but that didn't work out.
While Gelfand's Blue Wireless is an actual carrier that owns and uses licenses in the Buffalo area, his entities also own spectrum where he doesn't do any business.
The FCC has buildout deadlines for spectrum holders, but companies can fulfill their coverage minimums in rural areas without offering commercially viable service in that area, letting them hold onto the spectrum for longer, Goemmer said.
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"The PCS [spectrum] is clearly already past the buildout requirements … [but] buildout obligations are easily met with a relatively low number of sites," Goemmer said.
Columbia Capital, which does business in the auctions under the monikers Channel 51, Dominion 700, LB License Co, and other names, is less colorful.
It's just a venture capital firm with a lot of experience in wireless, having invested in the original MetroPCS, Amp'd Mobile, and a slew of other wireless-related firms.
There are a bunch of other investment entities holding spectrum out there, but most spectrum held by non-wireless carriers is held by Dish Networks.
Light Reading reported last week that T-Mobile is looking to make a three-year deal with Dish to share 600MHz spectrum, which would help Dish realize its stated ambition of becoming a fourth national wireless carrier in the wake of the Sprint/T-Mobile merger.