ATandT Must Prove It Needs T-Mobile Spectrum

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2011-05-29 Print this article Print

However T-Mobile has very little coverage of its own in West Virginia and depends in many cases on roaming agreements to allow its customers to make calls while in the state.

Likewise, AT&T is claiming that it needs T-Mobile's spectrum holdings in order to deliver LTE to its customers, but Deutsche Telekom CEO Ren??« Obermann told the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition and the Internet that T-Mobile, "simply does not have access to the spectrum needed to deploy LTE effectively."

The question that opponents are sure to ask, of course, is if DT's statements to the Senate are correct, then how is it that AT&T will get enough spectrum through the merger to build out its LTE network. The answer provided by AT&T so far (but lost in much of the discussion) is that it will not continue to operate T-Mobile's existing 3G and 4G networks. Instead, it will dismantle those networks and use the infrastructure and operating permits to replace it with its own LTE infrastructure.

It's possible that all of T-Mobile's data network, plus AT&T's data network might provide enough space to allow the growth of AT&T's LTE network. However, because T-Mobile has so little suitable spectrum, the question that arises is how it is that AT&T doesn't have enough already. This is why the FCC is asking for the evidence of a spectrum shortage. One would presume that they will also ask T-Mobile for information about its LTE-capable spectrum to see if AT&T's claims about the post-merger landscape pass the giggle test.

But even if AT&T is able to pass that test and demonstrate that somehow T-Mobile's spectrum will allow it to do something that T-Mobile says it can't do, then there's the question of what will happen to T-Mobile's customers. While T-Mobile phones will continue to offer voice and 2G service even after the merger, once AT&T starts dismantling the 3G and 4G networks, T-Mobile customers will have nothing else. Their smartphones-all of them-will be rendered useless for anything except voice phone calls and low-speed data.

The solution, of course, is one that is typical of AT&T. T-Mobile's customers would have to upgrade to AT&T phones, with their limits on 4G data, their higher prices, more expensive monthly plans and customer service that is so bad it's the stuff of legends.

At this point, all that's happening is that government agencies on the state and federal level are asking questions and asking for proof that this acquisition would be good for consumers. Once that's done, it's time for public hearings and I suspect that the regulators will get an earful when those start.


Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazineÔÇÖs Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.

He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.

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