Big AT&T & T-Mobile 4G Buildout Ahead?
AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) may well use T-Mobile US Inc. 's Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) spectrum to deploy rural Long Term Evolution (LTE) if its US$39 billion buyout is approved, but it will have its work cut out updating infrastructure to support 4G in the countryside. (See AT&T to Buy T-Mobile USA for $39B.)
A T-Mobile buyout gives AT&T a nationwide spectrum footprint in which to deploy LTE if it wishes. T-Mobile won 120 licenses for the 1700MHz/2100MHz AWS frequencies covering the U.S. through a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) auction in 2006. The carrier later picked up more AWS licenses from NextWave Wireless Inc. (Nasdaq: WAVE) in the summer of 2008. (See T-Mobile Wins Licenses and NextWave Gets AWS Licenses.)
Even if the merger is approved and AT&T has the spectrum in place, however, the operator will have more work to do because T-Mobile doesn't own many cell towers in parts of the Deep South, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, North and South Dakota and Wyoming.
Here's a screen-shot of the 7,000-plus sites in the U.S. that T-Mobile Towers owns and says makes up the fourth-largest tower portfolio in America:
The apparent lack of T-Mobile towers in some rural areas suggests that AT&T will need to co-locate new AWS radios at its existing towers or even build new cell-sites to deploy LTE. (See AT&T to Acquire T-Mobile for $39B and AT&T Could Drop 40% of T-Mobile.)
For instance, T-Mobile doesn't have towers around the Greenville, MS, area. Users traveling in the area frequently roam onto other smaller operators for voice service in the Delta:
AT&T, however, does at least have a single tower near Greenville to potentially locate new radios on:
AT&T Towers says that the operator currently has the third-largest owned tower portfolio in the U.S. with over 10,500 towers located in 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
This co-location pattern would appear to need to be repeated across many rural counties and states in the U.S if AT&T is to meet its goal of deploying LTE to an additional 46.5 million people in the U.S. though the acquisition and it uses AWS spectrum. The operator is expected to start commercial LTE service later this year on 700MHz and plans to cover 95 percent of the population if the acquisition is approved.
AT&T isn't saying what it would need to do about co-location or building out new towers for LTE on AWS yet. "We’re not commenting or speculating on anything related to the acquisition at this time," a spokeswoman tells Light Reading Mobile.
We know, however, that adding T-Mobile towers will help AT&T build out its network density in heavily trafficked cities. The combination of the two operators will increase AT&T’s network density by approximately 30 percent in some of its most populated areas, while avoiding the need to construct additional cell towers.
— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Light Reading Mobile