US telecommunications powerhouse AT&T has announced that it has agreed to acquire NextWave Wireless, which holds key licenses in the Wireless Communication Services (WCS) and Advanced Wireless Service (AWS) bands.
NextWave Wireless produces mobile multimedia solutions and speculates in the wireless spectrum market. The company is perhaps most notable for suing (successfully) the US government for seizing its assets while under bankruptcy protection. The statement says:
“Under the terms of the agreement, AT&T will acquire all the equity of NextWave for approximately $25 million plus a contingent payment of up to approximately $25 million and, through a separate agreement with NextWave’s debtholders, all of the company’s outstanding debt will be acquired by AT&T or retired by NextWave, for a total of $600 million in cash. The outstanding debt held by NextWave’s bondholders will be satisfied through cash and a transfer of selected NextWave assets. NextWave’s debtholders have agreed to the terms, and a majority of its shareholders have agreed to support the transaction.”
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WCS licences cover a 30 MHz-wide spectrum, and were auctioned for commercial use way back in 1997. The reception was pretty lukewarm, with the auction garnering less than $14 million. Indeed, it hasn’t yet been used for mobile Internet due to technical rules designed to avoid interference to satellite radio users in adjacent bands. But AT&T and Sirius XM filed a joint proposal with the FCC earlier this year, that would protect the adjacent satellite radio spectrum from interference and enable WCS spectrum to be used for mobile Internet. “This proposed solution on WCS spectrum, which is still under review by the FCC, effectively creates much-needed new spectrum capacity,” says AT&T.
AT&T said that the NextWave acquisition, in conjunction with the proposed WCS rule changes, “represent an alternative approach to creating additional wireless network capacity to help support skyrocketing wireless data usage on smartphones and tablets.”
If all this is approved, AT&T says it can begin deploying the the WCS spectrum in around three years. The NextWave acquisition is subject to the usual reviews by the FCC, and other closing conditions. It’s expected, however, to be closed by the end of this year.