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AT&T Gets Conditional Approval for $1.9 Billion Radio Spectrum Purchase

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USA based AT&T sasy that it has been given regulatory approvals for its previously announced acquisition of spectrum from Qualcomm. AT&T is purchasing 700 MHz spectrum licenses covering more than 300 million people for approximately $1.925 billion.

"This spectrum will help AT&T continue to deliver a world-class mobile broadband experience to our customers," said Bob Quinn, senior vice president-Federal Regulatory, AT&T. "We appreciate the FCC Chairman, the Commissioners and their staff for completing its review before the holidays."

The companies expect to close the transaction in the coming days.

However, the approval of the transaction is also conditional on the requirement that AT&T may not configure its network so that the supplemental downlink technology creates a barrier to roaming under the FCC's existing roaming rules.

There are also some additional conditions which limit the use of the spectrum for downlink services only to avoid interference with other mobile networks, and will be subject to existing power and antenna height restrictions. There are also some additional rules about base station sharing in areas where other networks may face issues with radio interference.

Due to the nature of the radio spectrum, being below 1Ghz, and thus very useful for rural coverage, the review by the regulator took longer than originally expected, especially as the purchase would have given AT&T more than one-third of the "below 1 GHz" radio spectrum nationwide, measured on a MHz*POPs basis.

According to the FCC report into the issue, AT&T plans to use its 700 MHz and AWS spectrum for LTE deployment, which is planned to be completed by the end of 2013.

Because the 700 MHz spectrum to be acquired from Qualcomm is unpaired and must be bonded with blocks of existing spectrum to be used for LTE service, it can be used only to augment downlink capacity in areas where AT&T already has spectrum.

AT&T currently has a nationwide average of 27.1 MHz of 700 MHz and AWS spectrum, and in some areas of the country it holds neither spectrum. The addition of Qualcomm's 6 MHz of Lower 700 MHz D Block spectrum nationwide will enable AT&T to have spectrum holdings throughout the United States and its territories. Also, the addition of Qualcomm's E Block will give AT&T a total of 12 more MHz capacity in the particularly high demand economic areas of New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, and Philadelphia.

Using supplemental downlink technology, AT&T plans to combine Qualcomm's unpaired 700 MHz spectrum with AT&T's paired spectrum to form a single wider channel. This will  provide additional downlink capacity to address the asymmetry of data flow caused by wireless broadband users consuming more video and other data-heavy media content with one-sided data flow.

In areas where Qualcomm holds both D and E Blocks, AT&T, as a result of the transaction, will be able to expand its LTE downlink capacity by an additional 10 MHz, using 2 MHz as a guardband. In the areas with only D Block spectrum, AT&T will be able to use as much as 5 MHz to expand LTE downlink capacity, using 1 MHz as a guardband.

Finally, AT&T plans to incorporate handsets and new technology that can utilize supplemental downlink into its network as they become available, expecting customers to be able to use such handsets as early as 2014.

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Tags: qualcomm  at&t  radio spectrum  fcc  USA