YOU ARE AT:CarriersAT&T gains FCC support for AWS, WCS spectrum deals

AT&T gains FCC support for AWS, WCS spectrum deals

AT&T Mobility added to its spectrum bundle, gaining government approval for control over a number of 1.7/2.1 GHz and 2.3 GHz spectrum licenses from Comcast, Horizon, NextWave and San Diego Gas & Electric.

AT&T, which controls AT&T Mobility, announced earlier this year a $650 million acquisition offer for NextWave that was to include the company’s 1.7/2.1 GHz (also known as advanced wireless service, or AWS, licenses) and 2.3 GHz (also known as wireless communication services, or WCS) licenses. The deal called for AT&T to acquire all the equity of NextWave for $25 million plus a “contingent payment” of up to $25 million. AT&T would also acquire or retire NextWave’s approximately $600 million in debt.

Cable television provider Comcast; Horizon, which operates under the Wi-Com name; and San Diego Gas & Electric had all picked up 2.3 GHz spectrum licenses during a 1997 auction.

“Based on our review of the competitive effects of AT&T’s post-transaction spectrum holdings on a local and national level, we find that these transactions are not likely to result in competitive or other public interest harms,” the FCC noted in its ruling. “We also anticipate that these transactions are likely to result in certain public interest benefits by facilitating the transition of long-underutilized WCS spectrum towards mobile broadband use, thereby supporting our goal of expanding mobile broadband deployment throughout the country.”

The move will bolster AT&T Mobility’s spectrum portfolio in support of its ongoing LTE rollout plans, with the 2.3 GHz spectrum expected to be used by the carrier to densify its network in concentrated markets. Sprint Nextel is looking at a similar strategy through its recently announced acquisition attempt of Clearwire that will provide the carrier with a substantial haul of 2.5 GHz spectrum.

Analysts have noted that spectrum assets above the 2 GHz band are ideally suited for dense, urban environments where the spectrum’s more limited propagation characteristics are less likely to cause interference issues when used with closely deployed small cell networks. The FCC itself is looking to take advantage of these characteristics having recently unveiled a notice of proposed rulemaking to create a “Citizens Broadband Service” in the 3.5 GHz spectrum band that “will promote two major advances that enable more efficient use of radio spectrum: small cells and spectrum sharing.”

The decision was also somewhat of a comeback win for AT&T, which last year was denied by government regulators its $39 billion acquisition attempt of T-Mobile USA. A diminished competitive market was cited as a reason for that denial. The denial of that deal also resulted in AT&T having to pay T-Mobile USA’s parent company Deutsche Telekom $3 billion in cash and hand over a significant portion of its 1.7/2.1 GHz spectrum holdings that T-Mobile USA is now earmarking for its own LTE deployment plans.

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