In a consolation prize for AT&T, which was forced to withdraw its bid from acquiring rival T-Mobile USA after opposition from consumer groups, rivals, and the government, the carrier was granted FCC approval for acquiring the 700 MHz spectrum owned by Qualcomm that was used for the now defunct FloTV service.
As part of its withdrawal from the T-Mobile deal, AT&T had requested that the government re-examine its Qualcomm acquisition proposal and expedited the review. To AT&T’s request, the FCC has done so and the U.S. regulatory agency has also put a few caveats to AT&T’s acquisition of spectrum.
First, perhaps in an indirect jab against LightSquared, the FCC advises AT&T that the spectrum it uses must not interfere with nearby frequencies. LightSquared, which is trying to build out a 4G LTE network in the U.S., is seeking regulatory approval for its spectrum, but government tests shows that LightSquared’s network may cause interference with commercial GPS devices.
Second, AT&T must allow roaming from devices on rival networks.
The FCC conditions imposed, especially the second condition, is loose and doesn’t require AT&T to provide support external devices on its network, just that it must offer these devices access to service. Additionally, as it stands, Verizon and AT&T operates 4G LTE networks in the same 700 MHz spectrum, but at different frequency, so smartphones and tablets must build in additional hardware support to roam onto each other’s networks.
Moreover, 4G LTE roaming is only part of the roaming equation and the FCC did not impose 3G or 2G roaming requirements.
The FCC may re-examine roaming and network compatibility issues in 2012 for 4G LTE.