Monday, March 28, 2011

AT&T shakes up LTE landscape, Sprint left stranded?

CTIA WIRELESS 2011, BOSTON, USA: AT&T’s planned acquisition of T-Mobile USA will help to accelerate the early deployment of 4G, but throws the viability of the mobile broadband strategies of Sprint, Clearwire and LightSquared into doubt. This is the conclusion of a recent report by the Strategy Analytics Wireless Operator Strategies service, “AT&T's T-Mobile Acquisition Accelerates LTE Deployments, Puts Pressure on Sprint.”

The acquisition lifts AT&T clear of Verizon Wireless—giving those two carriers a combined 75 percent share of all wireless connections. Although the regulatory approval process will be far from straightforward, this is a level of consolidation which is not unusual by international standards. Strategy Analytics believes that it is good news in terms of driving faster 4G deployment, even though it does put significant pressure on the other carriers in the emerging mobile broadband market and will drive more consolidation there.

“The acquisition has clear pros and cons for the US 4G market,” comments Susan Welsh de Grimaldo, director, Mobile Broadband Opportunities (MBO), speaking from CTIA in Orlando, Florida. “A 4G battle between the top two will be good news for consumers looking for better coverage and more device and service options with better LTE penetration sooner. However, that greater choice will be from fewer carriers, so the competition will need to reorganize in order to succeed.”

Sue Rudd, director, Service Provider Analysis (SPA) at Strategy Analytics, adds: “Competitors are already struggling to be viable. Clearwire is re-organizing to reduce costs. Even though LightSquared closed deals Leap and Best Buy this week, there are probably too many 4G wholesale networks going after too few large wholesale customers. Sprint, despite its 'sizzle' at CTIA this week, is likely to remain a distant third. Both AT&T and Verizon will need Sprint in order to pre-empt anti-trust issues. Strategy Analytics sees many countries where the top three players manage profitable ‘co-opetition.’”

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