T-Mobile has done a lot to improve its network over the past couple of years, but even the scrappy “Un-carrier” has admitted that it would not be able to match the network quality of AT&T and Verizon unless it gets access to more low-frequency spectrum, which propagates better than high-frequency spectrum and more easily penetrates buildings. Because of this, both T-Mobile and Sprint must be disheartened to learn that the Federal Communications Commission has delayed a key spectrum auction that could have given both carriers a major shot in the arm.

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As Bloomberg reports, the FCC is delaying the 600MHz spectrum auction until 2016 after broadcasters filed a lawsuit in which they “have told a court that TV stations that don’t volunteer airwaves for the auction may lose audience because the FCC will unfairly reduce their coverage area.” The FCC says that the lawsuit has added “uncertainty” to the proceedings and that it doesn’t want potential bidders to be put off by the threat of major lawsuits.

The 600MHz auction will be hugely important for both T-Mobile and Sprint, which have been at a persistent disadvantage compared with Verizon and AT&T because they’ve lacked access to contiguous chunks of low-frequency spectrum that you need to build a top-notch nationwide mobile data network. Winning big in the 2016 auction would go a long way toward helping T-Mobile and Sprint catch up and start to aggressively challenge the big two established carriers even more.

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