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Sneaky!

Buried in the text of its Project AirGig trial announcement yesterday, AT&T low key announced it is acquiring FiberTower Corporation and its millimeter wave spectrum rights.

Neither financial terms nor a timeline for the transaction were disclosed.

An AT&T spokesman declined to comment on the acquisition. But the carrier indicated in its release the move is part of AT&T’s effort to densify its network and “lay the groundwork for 5G and beyond.”

FiberTower is a privately held provider of spectrum and fixed wireless services, with millimeter wave spectrum in the 24 GHz and 39 GHz bands.

Back in 2012, FiberTower filed for bankruptcy, with plans to restructure its business around its legacy backhaul networks and spectrum and carrier services. The U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Northern District of Texas approved the company’s plan to emerge from bankruptcy in January 2014 and the company was newly formed in March 2014.

In May of that year, though, the FCC backed a previous decision from the Wireline Telecommunications Bureau to cancel 689 licenses held by the company (thus preventing their transfer to the reborn company) for failure to meet buildout requirements prior to the bankruptcy ordeal. FiberTower retained 46 licenses in areas where it successfully demonstrated substantial service.

According to a list of market and city coverage provided on its website, FiberTower’s spectrum assets span major cities like New York City, Los Angeles, Washington DC and nearby suburbs in Maryland and Virginia, San Francisco, Denver, Miami, Tampa, Orlando, Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Boston, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Buffalo, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Charlotte and Ashville, N.C., Hartford, Conn., Wilmington, Del., Trenton and Northern New Jersey, Providence, R.I., Charleston, S.C., Nashville, Tenn., Austin, Dallas-Ft. Worth, and San Antonio, Texas, Salt Lake City, and all of Puerto Rico.

Additionally, the licenses cover the home turf of AT&T rivals Sprint and T-Mobile in Kansas City and Seattle.

All told, AllNet Insights as cited by Wells Fargo indicates FiberTower owns 8.1 billion MHz POPS in the 39 GHz band and 374 million in the 24 GHz band.

Wells Fargo Senior Analyst Jennifer Fritzsche in a Tuesday note indicated the acquisition is a “positive strategic move for AT&T” in light of other carrier moves to grab millimeter wave spectrum.

“Once VZ closes on the XO acquisition (expected this quarter), we would expect VZ to talk much about the benefits this ultra high band spectrum (24 and 39 GHz) will bring it in a 5G world,” she wrote. “While TMUS has some 28 GHz spectrum, VZ will have by far the most of this spectrum following the XO close. XO brings 188 billion MHz-POPs of this high band spectrum (over 23x what FiberTower brings). That said, by making this move, AT&T now has an asset to point to and can be a part of the ultra high band spectrum 'conversation.'”

Incidentally, Verizon on Wednesday announced it has closed its $1.8 billion acquisition of XO Communications and reaffirmed its agreement to lease millimeter wave spectrum from XO affiliate NextLink Wireless with the option to buy down the line. The carrier said integration of all XO operations and facilities is expected to begin immediately.

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