AT&T's T-Mobile Acquisition: 10 Key Talking Points10:02 AM EST Tue. Mar. 22, 2011
According to official statements from AT&T and responses provided by AT&T executives at a Monday news conference, AT&T expects to be able to cover 95 percent of the U.S. population with Long Term Evolution (LTE) services, or some 294 million people. AT&T's acquisition of T-Mobile also up its infrastructure investment in the U.S. by more than $8 billion over a seven-year period, according to the telco.
AT&T has said that the deal will further the government's vision of bringing broadband network access to underserved U.S. communities, and that thanks to AT&T's track record -- including the 2004 merger of Cingular Wireless and the former AT&T Wireless -- it has the chops to pull such a merger off gracefully.
In addition, AT&T has said that the combination of its assets and T-Mobile's assets will help alleviate network strain and bandwidth demands placed by an explosion of mobile voice and data traffic. According to AT&T, its mobile data volumes increased 8,000 percent over the past four years, and are expected to grow eight-to-ten times over the next five to 10 years.
The deal is expected to face major judicial and regulatory hurdles. No sooner was the proposed merger announced that members of Congress, including Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) and Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), promised to give it a lot more than just a passing glance.
Sen. Kohl, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee's Antitrust subcommittee, assured a "close look."
"Consumers have born the brunt of the increasingly concentrated market for mobile phone service," said Sen. Kohl in a statement. "The explosion of cell phone usage -- especially smart phones -- makes competition in this market that much more important than ever as a check on prices, consumer choice and service. That's why the Antitrust Subcommittee will take a close look at what this loss of competition will mean for people who increasingly rely on wireless phone service to connect to friends, family and the Internet."
In a Monday news conference, AT&T's top executives were confident that they could cross all the t's and dot all the i's to win government approval of the acquisition.
Many analysts are similarly in favor, though many caution that the DOJ will likely require divestitures of spectrum or other assets. But AT&T has to expect a thorough review, most agreed. Barclays Capital analyst James Ratcliffe noted the "high quality" of "ATT's regulatory team," and wrote that "we don't think the company would be going down this path, (given $3BN breakup fee, especially), if they didn't have a high confidence of success."
According to a fact sheet provided by AT&T: "In the event the transaction does not receive regulatory approval satisfactory to AT&T and the transaction does not close, AT&T will be required to pay a breakup fee of $3B, transfer to T-Mobile certain AWS spectrum that is not needed by AT&T for its initial LTE roll out, and provide a roaming agreement to T-Mobile on terms favorable to both parties."
According to AT&T, integrating T-Mobile USA's assets into its own will happen in several stages. First, the two companies' 2G and 3G networks will combine, and the cell splits, according to AT&T, are expected to double its 3G capacity in many areas. AT&T's previously announced plan to begin its Long Term Evolution (LTE) network build-out this summer is on track, according to John Stankey, president and CEO of AT&T Business Solutions.
A big debate, already raging. AT&T cited that 18 of the top U.S. local markets, users can choose from at least five providers, and that thanks to traditional rivals like Verizon, emerging players like Metro PCS, and 4G specialists like Clearwire, competition is increasing at every turn.
Still, the question of whether the deal limits competition is one that'll burn bright up until -- and likely long after -- any AT&T-T-Mobile deal is approved, and several industry watchdogs have already come out firmly against it.
"The wireless market, now dominated by four big companies, would have only three at the top. We know the results of arrangements like this -- higher prices, fewer choices, less innovation," said Gigi B. Sohn, president and co-founder of Public Knowledge, a Washington DC-based digital culture watchdog, in a statement.
Sprint appears to big the biggest loser thanks to AT&T's move, especially since, according to several reports, Sprint was in the "driver's seat" to merge with T-Mobile -- and create a closer-in-size competitor to AT&T and Verizon -- as recently as this month.
Jamie Townsend, a partner in TownHall Investment Research, noted that being "third in a two-horse race is troublesome." "We believe that Sprint in particular is at risk as they have lost a potential merger partner and gained an even more formidable competitor," Townsend wrote in a research note.
In a statement from Sprint quoted by All Things D and several other news sources, Sprint urges the DOJ and FCC to take a hard look at the deal and its competitive implications.
The deal means much closer ties between AT&T and Germany-based Deutsche Telekom, which as part of the acquisition gets an 8 percent stake in AT&T and a seat on AT&T's board.
Asked during the Monday news conference if the relationship might see the two telco giants partner internationally, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson left open the possibility, describing a "great opportunity" to do some partnering for enterprise business customers and an "effective way" to approach marketplaces.
Steve Hilton, principal analyst for the enterprise solutions program at Analysys Mason, says that the acquisition and the placement of a Deutsche Telekom representative on AT&T's board is going to lead to conflict in the two companies' enterprise businesses and potentially some "awkward moments in the boardroom."
"Companies like AT&T and Deutsche Telekom are sometimes partners, other times competitors," Hilton wrote in a Monday e-mail note. "Both AT&T and Deutsche Telekom (through its ownership of T-Systems) have tremendous global system integration businesses...These businesses serve the communications and IT needs of the world's largest multi-national corporations. Often they compete for these highly prized deals, sometimes they cooperate in supplying connectivity or other managed solutions to these customers."
"Does it seem a little odd that someone from Deutsche Telekom would sit on the board of a company where there is this type of competition for the business of (multinational corporations)?" Hilton asked, likening the move to "the fox smelling the hen-house."
Not right now. At least not until T-Mobile becomes a part of AT&T.
"T-Mobile USA remains an independent company," wrote T-Mobile representatives in a Q&A posted to its corporate site Sunday. "The acquisition is expected to be completed in approximately 12 months. We do not offer the iPhone. We offer cutting edge devices like the Samsung Galaxy S 4G and coming soon, our new Sidekick 4G."