Wednesday, October 10, 2007

AT&T's first step towards Mobile TV

Only a couple of days ago, I wrote about the much talked auction of 700 MHz spectrum. While everyone in the industry is waiting to see who is going to get those channels and how much are these going to cost, AT&T, surprising everyone (especially Verizon), closed a deal with Aloha Partners purchasing spectrum licenses in the 700 MHz frequency band for $2.5 Billion.

AT&T bought 12 MHz of spectrum covering 196 million people in 281 markets. The spectrum covers many major metropolitan areas, including 72 of the top 100 and all of the top 10 markets in the United States. $2.5 Billion seems to be a very reasonable price, given the heat that has gathered around the auction. Companies like Verizon, which will try hard to get a good share of this spectrum to strengthen their position in the market; and Google, which is determined to take its first step in the telecommunication industry with this auction, can push the price of these channels really high. The 700 MHz frequncy has total 9 channels for auction (also known as auction 73) and only 3 channels with 12 MHz frequency spectrum, all in the lower 700 MHz band. While FCC expects to generate no less than $12 Billion from auction 73, industry experts believe it to be worth $30 Billion.

Aloha Partners is the largest owner of 700 MHz spectrum in United States. Wireless analysts and industry experts agree that this spectrum is much better than other wireless frequencies, because it travels significantly farther and penetrates foliage and buildings significantly better, hence saving billions of dollars to build a network on these frequencies compared to other frequencies.

This purchase has put AT&T in a very strong strategic position, much ahead of its competitors. With the auctions still 3 months away from today, AT&T can get significant advantage in the market by launching early and ahead of everyone else. However, at the same time, it also puts AT&T under pressure to offer its products and services in stipulated time and maximize the benefits from the opportunities. Another potential risk associated with being the first is that the followers can learn quickly from the mistakes of AT&T and adjust their strategies in a short time, reduce risks and make better profits.

In the past years, Aloha Partners has been busy developing market trials to provide high-speed, wireless broadband Internet services and broadcast mobile TV and music service in several of its markets, and most probably, AT&T will be thinking on the similar lines to leverage the incredible capacity of this spectrum. While the commercial and mass deployment of these products and services are still far away, it will be very interesting to see the way this spectrum will change the face of the telecom industry and what percentage of ancient telephony is actually left in a mobile phone.

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