The newly purchased spectrum had formerly been the property of Qualcomm, who used it with FLO TV.  (Source: Slashgear)
Spectrum covers 300 million people nationwide in the U.S.

AT&T reports that it has just completed a deal to provide what will be a crucial component of its 4G bid.  It will purchase a portion of the lower 700 MHz spectrum formerly occupied by Qualcomm's FLO TV service.  The spectrum will beef of AT&T's existing 700 MHz holdings.  The new spectrum will offer coverage of 300 million Americans, and come at a pretty penny for AT&T -- $1.925B USD.

Sprint was the first U.S. carrier to deploy a true 4G network, with its ever-expanding WiMAX network.  It remains the only network to offer true 4G smart phones (rival T-Mobile offers pseudo-4G HSPA+ smart phones, a tech experts refer to as "3.5G"). 

However, the race is heating up, with Verizon formally announcing its first 4G network rollout, which will initially feature broadband cards, and then expanding to smart phones later in 2011.  With Verizon -- the largest U.S. carrier -- pushing its new 4G LTE network, the pressure is on AT&T to follow in suit.

AT&T will also be relying on the LTE technology, a crucial shift from the 3G generation, in which Verizon adopted CDMA and AT&T adopted the rival GSM technology.  AT&T, like Verizon, hopes to have 4G devices out in 2011, but has been less specific about its plans.

Independent tests have shown that the company has long held an edge over Verizon in the service quality and speeds of its data network.  However, if it does not act quickly, Verizon's shiny 4G powers may allow it to boot AT&T to second place.  That would be a major problem for AT&T, given that it's used its data network prowess as a key selling point to customers.

Fortunately for AT&T and its customers, the network appears determined not to let that happen.

An AT&T spokesperson, Seth Bloom, tells us:
This move will bolster AT&T’s ability to provide an advanced 4G mobile broadband experience for its customers in the years ahead.

As part of our longer-term 4G network plans, AT&T intends to deploy this spectrum as supplemental downlink, using carrier aggregation technology. This technology is designed to deliver substantial capacity gains and is expected to be enabled with the completion of 3GPP Release 10.

AT&T delivers the best mobile broadband experience today, and we’re committed to doing so tomorrow.
The purchase follows Qualcomm's October decision to pull the plug on its FLO TV service.  Qualcomm has suspended its device sales, but will continue to support the service into March 2011.  AT&T comments, "Our decision to bid on the spectrum was independent of that decision."

It sounds like AT&T may bear good news for FLO customers, too.  Asked if AT&T would provide service to existing FLO device owners, the spokesperson states, "We’re finalizing those details now and plan to communicate with customers directly beginning early next year. Again, our first priority is to work one-on-one with these customers and answer all of their questions. Service is expected to continue as normal through March."

AT&T's Mobile TV service currently is powered by FLO, so the pair already have cooperated in the past. The service is currently offered for $9.99/month on the LG Vu Plus, Sharp FX, and Samsung Mythic -- all of which run proprietary operating systems.

The deal still has to go through standard regulatory checks by the likes of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission.  Assuming it clears, AT&T should gain full access to the spectrum in mid-2011.

"We basically took a look at this situation and said, this is bullshit." -- Newegg Chief Legal Officer Lee Cheng's take on patent troll Soverain

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