AT&T hunts for more 700 MHz spectrum to boost 2G, 3G capacity

In a bid to improve network capacity AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) is asking the FCC to approve a purchase of some 700 MHz spectrum licenses from privately-held Whidbey Telephone Company so that it can boost 2G and 3G service..

AT&T is petitioning to get access to the licenses in the lower 700 MHz B Block and lower 700 MHz C Block from Whidbey, which operates in the state of Washington. In its filing with the FCC, released Feb. 16, AT&T said it wants the spectrum to augment network capacity and that the fresh batch of airwaves "will facilitate the provision of additional products and services to the public in these markets as well as the continued deployment of GSM/EDGE and HSDPA/UMTS technologies."

As a result of the deal, AT&T said that in the 30 counties encompassed by the transaction, AT&T will hold between 18 and 55 MHz of spectrum below 1 GHz.

The FCC has asked for public comment on the proposed transaction, with petitions to deny the deal due by March 2 and all final comments due by March 21. The filing does not specifically mention LTE, which AT&T plans to deploy by the middle of the year on 700 MHz spectrum, covering 70 million to 75 million POPs by year-end. AT&T plans to finish its deployment in 2013.

AT&T made a similar filing with the FCC in January, asking the FCC to approve its deal for six 700 MHz licenses from regional telecom firm Windstream. The six Windstream licenses each include 6 MHz of paired spectrum, and are adjacent to--but not part of--the 700 MHz licenses that the FCC auctioned for close to $20 billion in 2008. AT&T purchased around $6.6 billion worth of airwaves during that auction.

In another spectrum-related move, AT&T in December agreed to buy the 700 MHz spectrum Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) uses for its soon-to-be-decommissioned FLO TV service, for $1.925 billion, which AT&T said it will use to enhance its planned LTE network.

The Qualcomm spectrum covers more than 300 million POPs. It includes 12 MHz of Lower D and E Block spectrum, which covers more than 70 million POPs in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and San Francisco, and 6 MHz of Lower D Block spectrum, which covers 230 million POPs across much of the rest of the country. Qualcomm paid $683 million for the spectrum.

For more:
- see this FCC filing (PDF)

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