AT&T told financial analysts it has five years worth of spectrum in its stockpile.
"According to the company it has approximately 5 years of runway with its current ... spectrum portfolio," Jeffries analysts wrote in a research note Thursday.
AT&T emphasized the five-year figure includes spectrum from potential acquisitions and not just spectrum that AT&T currently possesses.
The second-largest U.S. mobile-phone provider still maintains it faces a spectrum crunch due to the skyrocketing demand for wireless data services.
"AT&T is working on any and all possibilities around spectrum acquisitions," Jeffries analysts wrote, "and reiterated that the market should expect something on this front."
But if AT&T can support its subscribers for the next five years with its current spectrum assets, what's the rush? Ken Rehbehn, a principal analyst with Yankee Group, explained it takes time to get spectrum into the market and build out a network.
That's what made AT&T's $39 billion acquisition of T-Mobile USA so compelling, he told us in a phone interview. T-Mobile already had the spectrum and the infrastructure. AT&T last December gave up on the deal in the face of regulatory opposition.
If the U.S. government is slow to release more spectrum into the private sector, Rehbehn said, AT&T could reach "the end of that five-year period without the headroom it needs."
In a regulatory filing asking for permission to acquire spectrum licenses from U.S. cable companies, Verizon Wireless explained that it takes years to put spectrum to use.
"Verizon Wireless must respond to spectrum needs not merely on a short-term (1-2 years) time frame but also on a longer term (3-7 years) time frame," the company asserted in the filing. "Forward-looking, long-term spectrum planning is essential because long lead times are needed to complete the many steps that can be required before new spectrum is put to work."
Verizon Wireless said the Federal Communications Commission "predicts that, if additional spectrum is not made available in the near-term, mobile data demand will likely exceed capacity by 2014, resulting in a broadband spectrum deficit of nearly 300 MHz."