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Big AT&T & T-Mobile 4G Buildout Ahead?

Dan Jones
LR Mobile News Analysis
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor

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:

 T-Mobile Towers Map

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:

T-Mobile in Greenville, MS

AT&T, however, does at least have a single tower near Greenville to potentially locate new radios on:

AT&T in Greenville, MS

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

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12/5/2012 | 5:09:16 PM
re: Big AT&T & T-Mobile 4G Buildout Ahead?

Yeah, clearly they already rent on other towers. I stuck to what we definitely know AT&T will own when/if they seal the deal since they wouldn't give me any other info. Basically, we don't know yet what the operator will have to renew or make new deals on if they close the acquisition.


I can tell you from personal experience that you roam off the T-Mobile network not far out of Memphis and keep roaming on smaller carriers for a good part of the route to New Orleans.

12/5/2012 | 5:09:16 PM
re: Big AT&T & T-Mobile 4G Buildout Ahead?

Did you bother to check T-Mobile's coverage map for this city? They very clearly have native coverage despite not having any T-Mobile owned towers in the city.


<img alt="" src="http://i52.tinypic.com/330a1i0.jpg">


Both respective sites (AT&amp;T and T-Mobile Towers) ONLY list towers owned by the carriers themselves. They do NOT include towers they do not own. T-Mobile owns about 8,000 of their 49,000 cell sites.


I wouldn't trust anything AT&amp;T says. They said they beefed up coverage for SWSX - it still sucked horribly. T-Mobile had the fastest and BEST service at SWSX. So unless they keep all of T-Mobile's existing engineers and get rid of the people they have gluing whatever crap they have together now I wouldn't count on any improvements or a timely 4G rollout. The fact of the matter is AT&amp;T does NOT have plans to use T-Mobile's existing AWS spectrum for years out. The impending spectrum shortage that they talk about is for their existing 3G. Not 4G. This aqusition should be blocked. AT&amp;T will force existing customers to switch over to new plans if they want a phone of their choice (just like Alltel users and AT&amp;T Wireless "Blue" users) which will result in an instant price hike for all T-Mobile customers. It's a JOKE!!

12/5/2012 | 5:08:51 PM
re: Big AT&T & T-Mobile 4G Buildout Ahead?

I was just commenting on your quote from the artilce.

&ldquo;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:&rdquo;


Not sure about 3G in Greenville&nbsp;but they have voice/cell coverage located at Club 17 Rd., Mauceli St., South Broadway, MLK Blvd. &amp; Blaylock Rd.&nbsp; All these sites are on someone else's tower.

12/5/2012 | 5:08:51 PM
re: Big AT&T & T-Mobile 4G Buildout Ahead?

T-Mobile does have 5 cell sites in Greenville. Yours facts were not correct.

12/5/2012 | 5:08:51 PM
re: Big AT&T & T-Mobile 4G Buildout Ahead?

Where are the cell sites located?

The official T-Mobile Towers map shows no T-Mobile towers in Greenville. I also called and emailed them to ask and they didn't respond. If they're co-located on other carrier towers than we don't know for sure that the deals will remain in place if/when the merger gets completed.

Remember that I'm talking about 3G AWS spectrum not just voice coverage here. In my experience there is very little T-Mobile 3G coverage in that whole area. I was constantly roaming off the network even for voice calls last year.

If T-Mobile doesn't have any (or even many) 3G radios in the area that still means AT&amp;T has to roll out AWS radios whether or not it ends up deploying LTE or HSPA 3G.



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