AT&T to acquire NextWave for $650M to boost its mobile spectrum

AT&T says it hopes to use NextWave's WCS spectrum for mobile data but needs FCC approval first

AT&T plans to acquire NextWave Wireless, a holder of spectrum that could be used for mobile data services, for about US$650 million.

NextWave has licenses for spectrum in both the WCS (Wireless Communications Services) and the AWS (Advanced Wireless Services) band. AT&T said in a press release it hopes to use that spectrum to feed "skyrocketing" demand for mobile data, but it will have to wait for an ongoing Federal Communications Commission review before it can take advantage of the WCS band.

The FCC auctioned WCS spectrum in 1997, but it has not been used for mobile data because of rules designed to prevent interference with satellite users in adjacent bands, AT&T said. In June, AT&T and satellite radio company Sirius XM filed a proposal to the FCC for using WCS while protecting the nearby satellite users, but the agency is still reviewing that plan. If it is approved, AT&T hopes to start using the WCS band in about three years.

The NextWave deal is only the latest in a series of moves by big mobile operators to secure more spectrum. AT&T characterized its proposed merger with T-Mobile USA last year, which was opposed by the FCC and other regulators, as first and foremost a deal to acquire spectrum. Verizon Wireless announced a deal earlier this year, which is still under FCC review, to acquire unused wireless licenses from major U.S. cable operators.

Most of the price AT&T would pay for NextWave, about $600 million, would be for the company's debt. AT&T would also pay about $25 million for NextWave's equity, plus a contingent payment of as much as $25 million. It expects to close the transaction, pending approval by the FCC and other regulators, by the end of this year.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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