Today AT&T announced that it will acquire Atlantic Tele-Network Inc.’s retail wireless business which is runs under the Alltel brand.
The ATNI Alltel brand operates in rural areas in Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, North Carolina, Ohio and South Carolina. The ATNI network currently runs on a CDMA network, which is the network technology used by Verizon and Sprint. After the acquisition closes AT&T will convert the towers to GSM, giving it more coverage in those areas.
AT&T says that both ATNI and AT&T customers will get better data connections from the deal. Alltel subscribers will need a new phone to connect to the new AT&T network after the acquisition and transition is complete. AT&t does not provide any details about the transition. Those details will likely come after the acquisition closes sometime in the second half of 2013.
The network that AT&T is buying from ATNI once belonged to Alltel Wireless. Verizon Wireless bought Alltel in 2009, and as part of that deal the FCC made Verizon divest 105 Alltel markets. In the same year AT&T bought 79 of those divested markets. Now, four years later, AT&T wants to buy the remaining 26 markets that were a part of the regional carrier.
AT&T previously tried to acquire T-Mobile in an attempt to get more spectrum and to increase its network footprint. The FCC blocked that merger, however, so AT&T had to look elsewhere for more towers and more spectrum.
Company acquisitions and mergers are nothing new in the wireless industry. T-Mobile is in the process of a merger with MetroPCS. Sprint is also in the process of an acquisition of Clearwire while Japanese carrier Softbank is trying to buy Sprint. There is also talk in the Wall Street Journal that AT&T would try to merge with a carrier in Europe.
There are still several regional carriers in the U.S., but it seems the big four carriers are on the path to getting rid of those smaller carriers.