AT&T has agreed to buy NextWave Wireless in a deal valued at up to $650 million in an effort to expand its spectrum. NextWave outstanding debt will be acquired by AT&T or retired by NextWave, for $600 million and AT&T will acquire all the equity of NextWave for approximately $25 million plus a contingent payment of up to approximately $25 million.
In May 2010, the FCC voted to allow mobile broadband use of the 2.3 GHz WCS band, and mandated that rules be put in place to avoid interference issues. The WCS spectrum, which was first auctioned in 1997, has not been used for mobile Internet services because of possibile interference with satellite radio services, like those offered by Sirius XM Radio, on the adjoining band. Currently AT&T owns 12 MHz on average of WCS across the country.
Currently there is 30 MHz of WCS spectrum broken into two 5×5 MHz paired channels (the A and B Block) and two 5 MHz unpaired channels (the C and D Block). The C and D Blocks are next to the spectrum used by Sirius XM. Under the proposal from AT&T and Sirius XM, AT&T would not use the C and D Block spectrum for mobile service in exchange for more liberal rules on the A and B Block spectrum, thus allowing AT&T to deploy FDD-LTE service in that band.
NextWave bid $4.74 billion to buy 3G PCS licenses in 1996, but the company couldn’t make its payments and filed for bankruptcy protection. The FCC took back and re-auctioned the licenses, but NextWave argued that bankruptcy law protected it from seizure of its assets. It took the fight all the way to the Supreme Court, and won. The company then sold some of the licenses to Verizon, AT&T, and MetroPCS and returned others to the FCC. It also bought IPWireless which built New York City’s first responder network, which was later purchased by General Dynamics.
AT&T said it expects the deal, which is subject to U.S. regulatory review, to close by the end of the year. The FCC would need to approve the spectrum license sale and NextWave’s transfer of assets may be subject to Hart-Scott-Rodino review by the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice.
AT&T thinks it will take around four and a half years to make repurposed 2.3 GHz Wireless Communication Service (WCS) spectrum usable for LTE services. The 2.3 GHz band is often used for 4G (LTE) service in other countries that are not using the band for satellite radio, such as China and India.