AT&T gets approval to buy Qualcomm spectrum

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Mobile operator AT&T got a bit of a holiday present from the Federal Communications Commission: the FCC has approved its $1.9 billion purchase of 700 MHz spectrum blocks from Qualcomm, a move that will help AT&T build out its LTE 4G network.

“This spectrum will help AT&T continue to deliver a world-class mobile broadband experience to our customers,” said AT&T’s senior VP for federal regulatory issues Bob Quinn, in a statement. “We appreciate the FCC Chairman, the Commissioners, and their staff for completing its review before the holidays.”

Although the Qualcomm spectrum deal is somewhat small potatoes in the wake of AT&T abortive $39 billion attempt to take over T-Mobile, it nonetheless represents a bit of a gain for AT&T. Qualcomm had been using the spectrum in the Lower 700 MHz D and E Blocks to support its MediaFlo service, a portable television service the company launched in 2009 and shut down just over a year later. Flo TV was the first—and probably last—effort to launch a mobile television service in the United States. Although Qualcomm was able to bring some big-name content providers on board the service never resonated with consumers, who were already channelling their enthusiasm to smartphones and streaming video rather than broadcast television services.

In the end, the most valuable thing about MediaFlo may prove to be the spectrum licenses it used to operate: with them, AT&T will eventually be able to extend its LTE services to more consumers. The deal includes five 6 MHz Economic Area licenses in the Lower 700 MHz E Block that cover San Francisco, Philadelphia, Boston, New York, and Los Angeles, along with unpaired Lower 700 MHz D and E Block licenses that offer 6 MHz or 12 MHz of spectrum covering the entire United States.

AT&T’s bid to purchase the spectrum had been put on hold by the FCC last August while AT&T proposed merger with T-Mobile was still under review.