AT&T: Spectrum Needs Drove T-Mobile Deal

ORLANDO, Fla. — According to AT&T Mobility CEO Ralph de la Vega, one of the “big drivers” of his company’s proposed purchase of T-Mobile was simply “the need for more spectrum.”

Though Ma Bell has been mum in the past when asked whether or not it had enough spectrum to support its current and future network plans, with its pending deal headed toward intense regulatory scrutiny AT&T is now playing the “we need spectrum” card as a pitch to help it provide better service to its wireless customers.

De la Vega made his spectrum-crunch comment as part of a three-CEO panel that opened this spring’s CTIA wireless show here, a gathering that also included Sprint CEO Dan Hesse and Verizon Wireless CEO Dan Mead as well as bombastic TV personality Jim Cramer as the Red Bull-powered moderator. Though Cramer noted that the New York Times among others had found reasons to criticize the pending deal, De la Vega said the combination of AT&T and T-Mobile spectral assets would help prevent what the company now describes as a pending “spectrum exhaust” for many U.S. markets.

Spectrum, the licensed wireless airwaves used to transmit cellular signals between consumer devices and antennas on towers, is typically obtained by companies like AT&T in auctions authorized by the government. Though FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski used his keynote speech here Tuesday to pitch his agency’s idea for voluntary auctions for existing spectrum holders such as television broadcasters, any such transactions are years away in producing usable spectrum, making commercial transactions such as AT&T’s pending purchase the only fast way for companies to obtain more wireless airwaves quickly.

“It’s in the public interest to solve the [pending] spectrum exhaust,” said De la Vega, trying to put a bigger-picture spin on AT&T’s planned acquistion.

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