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Confirmed: AT&T wants to use T-Mobile's AWS spectrum for LTE buildout

Chris Ziegler
03.21.11
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Flipping through the slide deck accompanying a hastily-arranged press conference this morning to talk up AT&T's planned acquisition of T-Mobile USA, it's now clear that the company is interested in augmenting its 700MHz LTE spectrum with T-Mobile's 1700MHz AWS airwaves -- a move that it says would help it deploy LTE to 95 percent of the American population. AWS is currently used by T-Mobile for its 3G services, but running LTE there isn't without precedent -- that's where MetroPCS is already set up, so there's some potential for consumer hardware and infrastructure synergy there. For T-Mobile customers, that means that the repurposed AWS spectrum will eventually leave them without 1700MHz HSPA+, rendering the carrier's current line of 3G / 4G phones stuck on 2G; AT&T's recognizing that there'll be an equipment swap required eventually, but that's not really a concern for at least a year (assuming the deal goes through).

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson has said that the purchase would help the FCC achieve the National Broadband Plan's goal of ubiquitous (read: rural) broadband availability -- clearly a nudge at the feds to push approval in the right direction. General counsel Wayne Watts says they've "studied the law, studied the facts" and believe that the transaction can and should go through -- but be that as it may, they're still anticipating "focused divestitures," probably not unlike the markets Verizon had to flip in order to win approval of its Alltel buy.

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