T-Mobile's Ray: Tower sale could take months, just getting started

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NEW ORLEANS--T-Mobile USA is still interested in selling some of its wireless towers and has received a great deal of interest, but the process could take "several months to pan out," and is still just beginning, according to T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray.

Ray told Reuters that the carrier has so far received the most interest from companies already in the wireless tower business, suggesting that powerhouse players like Crown Castle and American Tower might be potential bidders. There has been speculation that T-Mobile would try to sell its 7,000 U.S. towers ever since AT&T (NYSE:T) and Deutsche Telekom aborted their plans late last year for AT&T to buy T-Mobile for $39 billion. DT CFO Timotheus Hoettges had even raised the possibility of a tower sale as a way to fund spectrum purchases.

Analysts have estimated that a tower sale to one of the major tower companies could net around $3 billion. Ray, who declined not name any potential buyers, said the process is still in the "very early days" and he did not know how much the towers would sell for.

The speculation on the tower sale comes at T-Mobile is ramping up its network modernization efforts. The carrier selected Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC) and Nokia Siemens Networks as its primary infrastructure vendors for its forthcoming LTE network. A tower sale might be related to T-Mobile's decision to deploy antenna integrated radios, devices the carrier said will speed up its rollout and reduce the load it puts on cell sites. Integrated radios are a growing trend among infrastructure vendors. By integrating the radio and the antenna, carriers can reduce power consumption and space on cell towers.

A tower sale might also make sense given that AT&T (NYSE:T) gave T-Mobile a seven-year UMTS roaming agreement that will allow T-Mobile to expand its coverage to 280 million POPs from 230 million today. The roaming deal is a condition of the breakup fee of AT&T's failed $39 billion bid to acquire T-Mobile last year.

Ray also told reporters that by the fourth quarter T-Mobile will be able to offer HSPA+ speeds to unlocked Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhones on its network. As part of the network upgrade, T-Mobile will install new equipment in 37,000 cell sites and will deploy HSPA+ in its PCS 1900 MHz spectrum band, which it is currently using for 2G GSM services (the carrier's HSPA+ network currently runs on T-Mobile's 1700 MHz AWS spectrum). Currently, customers who bring unlocked iPhones to T-Mobile can only get 2G EDGE data speeds, since the iPhone does not support T-Mobile's 1700 MHz AWS spectrum.

The T-Mobile executive said he did not know whether T-Mobile would then make a concerted marketing push for iPhone customers. "It would make sense," Ray said, according to AllThingsD. "We're not there yet."

For more:
- see this Reuters article
- see this AllThingsD article
- see this CNET article

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