According to a report filed by Reuters, while AT&T was recovering from US regulators on the fate of its ultimately failed bid to purchase and merge T-Mobile within the past few months, the carrier had been in discussions with regional carrier and part MVNO Cricket in order to discover what possibilities existed that would lead the two companies into a potential merger.
With AT&T seeking as much AWS spectrum as possible for its expanding LTE network and Cricket/Leap holding its own significant swath for its AWS CDMA network and future LTE network plans, any discussions related to a purchase would have primarily revolved around AT&T acquiring Leap/Cricket for its spectrum holdings while figuring out what to do with its network infrastructure, as Leap’s network is incompatible with AT&T and Leap’s customers would have had no immediate way to transition to AT&T without a transition plan in place.
Leap/Cricket’s name was often being mentioned during the height of the AT&T/T-Mobile merger activity as the main beneficiary of any assets that would have been divested by AT&T as a result of the approval of the purchase, but those possibilities became more remote as it became clear that regulators were determined to halt the purchase in order to maintain competitive activity in the marketplace.
With the news of the latest discussions now hitting as the industry shuffles out of New Orleans, this year’s CTIA will be best remembered for the industry attempting to address the issues of spectrum and networks as a whole going forward. The carriers that were once seen as disruptive forces with the capability to compete head on with the national carriers are now being targeted mainly for their spectrum, with the big 4 now competing against each other to see who wins, for the carrier that has the most spectrum to help its 4G network will end up benefiting the most, now and in the years to come.
The fact that these reports are coming out now say more about every carrier’s increasing sense of urgency regarding spectrum reserves than any real need to purchase another company, as one only need to look to Sprint’s purchase of Nextel to see what happens when two wholly incompatible networks are merged together under the guise of improved service for all. It doesn’t work, and the rest of the industry attempting such purchases would do well to pay attention to those lessons, which are still being felt today.