AT&T Snaps Up More Spectrum - Could Be for In-Flight Wi-Fi or LTE Network

Ma BellAT&T has entered into an agreement with Sprint to buy all of that company's 2.3 GHz WCS licenses in the Southern United States, a deal that will have to be approved by the FCC. According to FierceWireless, AT&T could be planning to use the spectrum to offer in-flight Wi-Fi service or it could be looking to bolster its LTE network.

AT&T has been buying WCS spectrum from competitors for years, and the deal with Sprint would net 19 different licenses if approved by the FCC. Terms of the deal haven't been disclosed, but Ma Bell spent US$600 million buying similar spectrum from NextWave in 2012.

AT&T has announced plans to use a combination of its LTE technology and unspecified spectrum to offer in-flight Wi-Fi service in late 2015. Currently, the company's LTE network is based on 700 MHz AWS spectrum, meaning that if this purchase was made to make iPhone calls better, it would require some changes to that network. AT&T remains the biggest iPhone carrier in the U.S.

The regulatory hurdles for the deal to be approved are not necessarily routine. FierceWireless noted that the deal would result in AT&T owning more spectrum in many markets than is allowed by the FCC's so-called spectrum screen.

That screen is intended to prevent one company from monopolizing spectrum in any given market, but this is the same FCC that is busily selling us out on Net Neutrality, so AT&T probably has little to worry about.

For its part, AT&T has preemptively argued that there is additional spectrum available for competitors in those markets.