Perhaps the second time will be the charm for AT&T. The carrier, which failed
in its attempt to scoop up T-Mobile a couple of years ago, still needs access to additional spectrum
in order to truly compete with Verizon Wireless in terms of network coverage. It's pretty hard to get spectrum these days, but a surefire way is to acquire a rival operator that owns a chunk of their own. Now, the nation's fifth largest carrier is in AT&T's sights, as the company announced this week that it had agreed to buy Leap Wireless for a staggering $1.19 billion.
Under the terms of the agreement, AT&T will acquire all of Leap's stock and wireless properties, including licenses, network assets, retail stores and approximately 5 million subscribers. Leap shareholders will also receive a contingent right entitling them to the net proceeds received on the sale of Leap's 700 Mhz "A Block" spectrum in Chicago, which Leap purchased for $204 million in August 2012.
Leap's network covers approximately 96 million people in 35 U.S. states. Leap currently operates -- under the Cricket brand -- a 3G CDMA network, as well as a 4G LTE network covering 21 million people in these areas, and has 3,400 employees. AT&T will retain the Cricket brand name, provide Cricket customers with access to AT&T's network, utilize Cricket's distribution channels, and expand Cricket's presence to additional U.S. cities. The acquisition includes spectrum in the PCS and AWS bands covering 137 million people and is largely complementary to AT&T's existing spectrum licenses. Immediately after approval of the transaction, AT&T plans to put Leap's unutilized spectrum - which covers 41 million people - to use in furthering its 4G LTE deployment and providing additional capacity and enhanced network performance for customers' growing mobile Internet usage.
Of course, the FCC and regulatory agencies have to sign-off, but it sure feels as if they'll face fewer hurdles with this compared to the T-Mobile buy. And honestly, AT&T subscribers should be thrilled if it goes through; the network lacks a ton of LTE markets that Verizon already has lit, and time's a wastin'.