Upstart announces plans for spectrum marketplace
After a year in stealth mode, Spectrum Bridge today announced the launch of its company, which plans to build an online, real-time spectrum commodities market to let spectrum holders monetize underutilized airwaves and allow entities to lease licensed spectrum for operations.
The need for a spectrum marketplace is underscored by the 700 MHz auction, which is winding down after more than 1000 licenses have attracted $19.588 billion in high bids, said Rick Rotondo, vice president of marketing and communications for Spectrum Bridge.
“With the completion of the 700 MHz auction, the FCC really doesn’t have any spectrum to allocate for mobile broadband,” Rotondo said during an interview with MRT. “It’s pretty much all gone. There’s really none left.”
While virtually all of the spectrum has been allocated, not all of it is being used. In the “sweet spot” for mobile broadband—between 200 MHz and 5 GHz—only 10% to 16% of all allocated spectrum is used at any given time and location, Rotondo said.
“So, there’s a big spectrum paradox—all of it has been allocated, yet most of it sits unused,” he said. “To us, there was a huge opportunity there, because clearly you have spectrum holders sitting on spectrum assets that are not generating revenue for them.”
Spectrum Bridge hopes to change that, by establishing a secondary marketplace for spectrum holders to sell access to their airwaves under myriad conditions, instead of the current model of owning licenses outright, Rotondo said.
“If all you could do was buy and sell entire companies, there wouldn’t be much of a stock market, because there aren’t too many people that can afford to buy or sell entire companies for hundreds of millions—or billions—of dollars,” he said. “But someone came up with this idea of disaggregating companies into shares of stock, so you can buy one share of stock and sell it when you don’t need it anymore. Now, there’s a vibrant retail market for essentially pieces of companies.
“We’re going to create the same thing for spectrum—a vibrant retail market for spectrum that turns these idle spectrum assets into revenue-generating assets for the spectrum, and they never lose control of the spectrum.”
Rotondo said spectrum holders can “disaggregate” their spectrum holdings for sale by frequency, time or geography, or some combination of those characteristics. For example, a commercial carrier with a license for a large region may want to deploy networks in urban areas immediately but not address the rural areas for 5 or 10 years. With Spectrum Bridge, a rural enterprise could lease the spectrum for its own network, providing the enterprise with needed airwaves and providing the spectrum holder with a new revenue source.
Public-safety entities potentially are both buyers and sellers of spectrum, although Rotondo said he believes public-safety operators would want to reserve the right to use their spectrum in emergencies, which would make its spectrum less valuable on the market than spectrum guaranteeing priority access.
“If a public-safety entity says, ‘We want to lease our spectrum, because we need revenue. We want it back when we need it. We want to potentially get more spectrum when we need it. How do we do that?’” Rotondo said. “We’ll work with them and do it.”
Driving the exchange is set of software tools that make it “easy” for spectrum holders to disaggregate airwaves and for potential buyers to lease spectrum without being a wireless expert, Rotondo said. These spectrum-management tools have value outside the spectrum-exchange arena, he said.
“Our spectrum manager can match all of the users and manage the spectrum of the DOD, a public-safety agency, a government agency or even a carrier, so that they’re constantly optimizing the utilization of their spectrum and getting the maximum amount of bandwidth, coverage and throughput through the system,” Rotondo said.
There are many potential business models for buyers and sellers to use the Spectrum Bridge marketplace concept, Rotondo said. Users can request to lease spectrum for as little as a few hours in a given location, or an enterprise could secure spectrum license rights for its campus location. In addition, the notion that the FCC could use this strategy to disburse spectrum in the TV white spaces is “very, very interesting,” he said.
Rotondo said the Spectrum Bridge marketplace would be in beta testing during the second quarter of this year. The company plans to have the exchange go live during the third quarter, he said.