AT&T throws $1.6bn at naughty boy Straight Path

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AT&T has announced plans to acquire Straight Path Communications for $1.6 billion, which includes its portfolio of millimetre wave (mmWave) spectrum, including 39 GHz and 28 GHz licenses.

This happens to be the second time in a matter of months AT&T has bought its way into the high-frequency airwaves after quietly acquiring FiberTower in February. FiberTower, which has spectrum in the 24 GHz and 39 GHz bands covering 30 billion MHz POPs, will sit nicely next to Straight Path as AT&T prepares itself for the 5G arms race in the next couple of years.

Straight Path has not always been in the headlines for the most positive of reasons however. Earlier this year, the team had a run in with the FCC after claims the company had misrepresented progress of putting its spectrum to use. The saga resulted in Straight Path being hit with a $15 million fine, as well as an order to sell its spectrum licenses by January 2018. Failure to do so would result in an additional fine of $85 million or handing the airwaves back to the agency.

As the 28 gigahertz and 39 GHz mmWave spectrum has already been approved by the FCC as one of the frequencies to power 5G, the $1.6 billion price tag might not look at steep to investors, despite a 162% premium to its closing price of $36.48 on Friday. AT&T has been trailing to the likes of Verizon and T-Mobile US in the increasing combative 5G race, though the ultra-high band spectrum is seen as key in the 5G orientated world.

While largely unconfirmed for the moment, AT&T is believed to be trailing both Verizon and T-Mobile in the MHz POPs race, with the former acquiring significant exposure through the $1.8 billion purchase of XO Communications last September. The Straight Path and FiberTower acquisitions could potentially put AT&T in the same ballpark, as the FCC’s still controls some of the spectrum due to FiberTower’s bankruptcy, though whether AT&T will have access to this is unknown for the moment.

Although Verizon and T-Mobile are generally regarded as the two leaders on the road to 5G, AT&T is certainly showing it isn’t shy it throwing its weight around. The first acquisition might have been sneaky, but this is a much more bullish move.

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