Sprint Calls Timeout On Upcoming Wireless Spectrum Auction, T-Mobile CEO Blasts Decision On Twitter

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is getting ready to auction valuable wireless spectrum to wireless carriers next March. It's a big opportunity for carriers to beef up their networks, though Sprint, the fourth largest wireless service provider in the U.S., isn't planning to participate.

Sprint issued a statement saying it "thoroughly" analyzed the situation and determined it's already sitting on enough spectrum to serve its customers, both today and into the future. Rather than allocate funds towards the purchase of more spectrum, Sprint feels it's more important to focus its resources on densifying and adding more cell sites capable of tapping into its existing spectrum.

Sprint Store

"Sprint’s focus and overarching imperative must be on improving its network and market position in the immediate term so we can remain a powerful force in fostering competition, consumer benefits and innovation in the wireless broadband world," stated Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure. "Sprint has the spectrum it needs to deploy its network architecture of the future."

It's a bit of a gamble on Sprint's part since spectrum is such a valuable commodity in the wireless industry and only becomes available when the FCC decides to hold these auctions. However, Sprint is indeed sitting on extra spectrum from its Clearwire acquisition in 2013, so it's not in desperate need.

What is Spectrum Anyway?

Spectrum is the radio frequency that wireless communication signals travel over. There are many competing uses for spectrum, such as TV broadcasts, FM radio stations, and so forth, and so the government has taken it upon itself to manage available spectrum by licensing certain frequencies through these auctions.

There's only so much spectrum to go around, and even less when you narrow the field to frequencies appropriate for the data transmission needs of the mobile phone industry. That's what makes these auctions a big deal.

Cell Tower

It's also the reason why Sprint's absence from the upcoming auction is notable. Sprint says it's "already deploying new technologies, such as carrier aggregation, that unlock the potential of its strong 2.5GHz spectrum position." It also notes "positive results from its infrastructure upgrades" as seen by RootMetrics surveys across the U.S.

Naturally T-Mobile CEO John Legere was quick to criticize Sprint's decision through a series of Twitter posts, his favorite social media battleground. Legere called Sprint "crazy to sit out this historic auction" and that its statement translates into, "We have no money, can't borrow any, and Masa won't give us any more" (Masa refers to Masayoshi Son, CEO of Softbank, which owns a majority share of Sprint). He also said that T-Mobile is "definitely ready and participating" in the upcoming auction.