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AT&T: T-Mobile 3G phones will eventually need to be replaced

AT&T's Randall Stephenson, Deutsche Telekom's Rene Obermann

The ink is barely dry on AT&T’s $39 billion acquisition plan for T-Mobile, but T-Mobile customers are already clamoring for information on what’s going to happen with their service and their phones. Details are still emerging, but one thing seems clear: phones that tap into T-Mobile’s 3G services will eventually need to be replaced, and AT&T worked the cost of replacing all those handsets into the price of the acquisition.

One of the main reasons AT&T wants to acquire T-Mobile is to get T-Mobile’s cell towers and use them to expand coverage and the availability of 4G LTE mobile broadband services. However, rolling out AT&T’s 4G services on T-Mobile towers will mean switching off T-Mobile’s existing 3G services: AT&T will need the spectrum for 4G. In a call with investors this morning, AT&T executives indicated that the company plans to make some cellular sites dual-mode so they support both companies’ 3G frequencies, significantly increased 3G capacities in some areas. However, once the T-Mobile acquisition is complete, AT&T will be looking to utilize T-Mobile’s existing 1700MHz AWS spectrum in conjunction with AT&T’s 700 MHz spectrum to support LTE services. According to AT&T, that will eventually mean AT&T 4G services will be able to cover 95 percent of the U.S. population.

However, the downside is that when AT&T turns off T-Mobile’s 3G services, customers will T-Mobile 3G devices will lose data services. For many customers, this will be a non-issue: the switchoff is still in the very far future (at least in mobile technology terms), and many customers will have replaced and/or upgraded their phones by then. But folks sticking with T-Mobile 3G services will need to replace their handsets with devices that operate on AT&T’s 3G frequencies…and, of course, AT&T would be very happy if those customers upgraded to LTE-capable devices and service plans.