Cutting through the AT&T/T-Mobile acquisition chatter is almost impossible at CTIA

sue editor's corner
ORLANDO, Fla.--It's no surprise that AT&T's (NYSE:T) proposed $39 billion acquisition of T-Mobile USA is dominating discussions at the 2011 CTIA Wireless conference this week. That type of blockbuster news is hard to beat. Many wireless firms came to Orlando this week hoping to make headlines (Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S), LightSquared and Samsung, for example), and I suspect they are probably going home a little disappointed.  

Clearly, there are more questions than answers right now when it comes to the details of AT&T's proposed acquisition of T-Mobile and whether it will pass the muster of regulators. Nevertheless, many wireless industry players are weighing in with their views about what this will mean for their businesses.

Tom Keys, COO of MetroPCS (NASDAQ:PCS), said that while his company plans to keep its head down and continue to execute on its LTE rollout, there are some possible positive outcomes for MetroPCS from this deal.

For example, if T-Mobile customers start to leave the carrier because of uncertainty about its future, MetroPCS could be seen as a place to get a postpaid experience without a contract.

Plus Keys said that he believes that this deal may help MetroPCS make more inroads with handset makers, which may have previously not considered them to be a big enough player to garner much attention. "I suspect we will get an increased set of focused eyes on what our business might mean for them," Keys said.

Finally, he said that if current speculation proves correct and AT&T has to divest some of its spectrum holdings in order to acquire T-Mobile, MetroPCS might want to look at some of that spectrum.

Not surprisingly, many wireless vendors are also shining a positive light on this acquisition. Tom Jazny, vice president of wireless broadband networks at Samsung Mobile, said that while fewer customers might limit opportunities it also may be an opportunity to reinforce strategic relationships. He added that while the Tier 1 U.S. operators have selected their 4G infrastructure vendors for their initial deployments, there will likely be multiple phases to the 4G networks so there is still plenty of opportunity for Samsung in the U.S. infrastructure market.

Likewise, Madan Jagernauth, vice president of wireless marketing and product management at Huawei, said that this potential acquisition doesn't change the marketplace, adding that there is still demand for data and therefore still opportunity. And while many Tier 1 operators have made decisions about their vendors for their 4G macro network, Jagernauth added that Huawei believes there are still opportunities with Tier 2 operators and also for contracts for other parts of the network, such as with small cell deployments.

Clearly the industry is still trying to understand all the ramifications from the AT&T acquisition. And while the shock is starting to subside, the speculation is just getting started. 

But aside from the discussions of AT&T's proposed merger, the CTIA show has been fairly subdued. Many attendees that I talked to were feeling burned out from the flurry of wireless conferences starting with the Consumer Electronics Show in January and followed by the Mobile World Congress conference in Barcelona, spain last month. They commended CTIA for its decision to move the 2012 conference to New Orleans in May. --Sue

P.S. Check our all our CTIA coverage at our CTIALive minisite.