Bloomberg has quoted Cox Communications President Pat Esser as saying the cable MSO wants to sell its now defunct CDMA network to a wireless operator. The story cited AT&T, Verizon Wireless and Sprint as possibilities—the fourth option being to tear down the network completely. Bloomberg did its due diligence contacting each of the three operators in turn for comment, none of which was forthcoming. I have to think that each of those operators spokespeople must have been at least puzzled, if not amused, by the question, though.
Let’s take AT&T first. It’s a GSM operator—enough said. Sprint and Verizon use CDMA, but they don’t run CDMA on Cox’s advanced wireless service (AWS) spectrum. Their phones simply wouldn’t work on that network, and I doubt either operator is willing to revamp their device portfolios for some additional capacity in Oklahoma City. And if for some inane reason they were willing to go to such lengths, there’s the issue of interoperability. Cox uses Huawei gear. Sprint and VZW don’t. CDMA interface standards have come a long way, but there’s no way they’re going to plug a Huawei base station into an Ericsson or Alcatel-Lucent base station controller. Running parallel networks in the same markets isn’t any operator’s idea of a good time.
If Cox is really aiming at an equipment sale than MetroPCS or Leap would be its best bet, since they both run CDMA networks at AWS. Both operators are just chomping on the bit to expand into new markets as well. But what Cox is likely aiming for is a spectrum sale, not an equipment sale. Its AWS and 700 MHz are valuable in everybody’s book, particularly AT&T and Verizon Wireless, both of which are building their LTE networks at those frequencies. AT&T is picking up spectrum bits and pieces wherever it can to cobble together a bigger footprint and wider mobile broadband channels. Verizon is already well on its way to building a nationwide LTE network at 700 MHz, but it’s not stupid. It knows it will need more spectrum in the future, even if has to acquire it on a market-by-market basis.
Unless Cox strikes a deal with a regional AWS operator, it looks like it will have to tear down the network itself but sell the licenses. There is one final option, though. Remember Cox isn’t shutting down its wireless service. It’s just moving it onto Sprint’s network, functioning entirely as a virtual operator (Unfiltered: Are cable operators cut out to be mobile network operators?). If Sprint’s new Network Vision architecture is as radio agnostic as it claims to be, Cox could conceivably contract out with Sprint to run what is essentially a private network for Cox using the latter’s AWS and 700 MHz spectrum. That might be far-fetched. But a lot of things have happened in this industry in the last year that seem far-fetched.