AT&T's acquisitions streak continues to roll this week with news the carrier is scooping up millimeter wave spectrum company Straight Path Communications for a cool $1.6 billion.
The move comes just months after the FCC gave Straight Path a year to offload its massive 28 GHz and 39 GHz holdings or face an $85 million fine as part of a settlement related to fraud allegations brought against the company.
The deal will see AT&T dish out $1.25 billion, or $95.63 per share, to Straight Path shareholders, which the carrier said will be paid in AT&T stock. Under the merger agreement, AT&T will also pay liabilities and amounts to be remitted to the FCC per the terms of the aforementioned settlement between the Commission and Straight Path. The total value of the deal was pegged at $1.6 billion.
“The merger of AT&T and Straight Path Communications marks a vital point for us,” Straight Path CEO Davidi Jonas commented. “Importantly, this merger provides Straight Path shareholders with a compelling return since Straight Path’s spin-off to become an independent public company in 2013, with an initial price per share of $6.40 on July 31, 2013.”
The companies indicated the merger is expected to close within 12 months, subject to FCC review.
Should the deal go through without a hitch, the acquisition will give AT&T a boost in its 5G competition against Verizon, which last year inked its own deal to acquire a massive amount of 28 GHz spectrum from XO Communications.
AT&T earlier this year quietly announced plans to acquire FiberTower Corporation and its spectrum rights in the 24 GHz and 39 GHz bands. Wells Fargo Senior Analyst Jennifer Fritzsche at the time noted that FiberTower spectrum amounted to just a fraction of the 188 billion MHz-POPs covered by Verizon's XO airwaves, but would help bring AT&T into the millimeter wave conversation.
The Straight Path deal will net AT&T 735 millimeter wave licenses in the 28 GHz and 39 GHz bands to go alongside the 39 GHz holdings it's getting from FiberTower. Straight Path's holdings amount to an average of 620 MHz in the top 30 U.S. Markets, and represent about 95 percent of the commercially available 39 GHz spectrum licenses, Jonas has said previously. Its 28 GHz also blankets key markets like New York and San Francisco, he said.
All this 39 GHz spectrum will presumably play into AT&T's content strategy with products like DirecTV Now.
The carrier earlier this year announced it successfully completed a trial with Nokia in which the pair streamed DirecTV Now content via a fixed wireless 5G connection in the 39 GHz band.
Though less open about its plans than Verizon, AT&T also seems to be moving down a fixed wireless path as part of its 5G roadmap. In addition to the aforementioned trial, AT&T is running a 5G video trial in Austin in the first half of this year that lets customers stream DirecTV Now over a fixed wireless 5G connection and also announced plans to conduct additional fixed and mobile 5G trials in the second half of 2017 in the 28 GHz and 39 GHz bands.
In a Monday note, Fritzsche noted the following of the most recent transaction: "This ultra-high band spectrum has fairly limited propagation characteristics, which likely means the spectrum needs to be within several hundred feet of a fiber-fed base station. We have long thought T was in the early innings of its fiber deployment, and this announcement gives us more conviction in this view. It is worth noting this fiber build or leasing could even occur outside of its incumbent footprint to realize the full benefits of this spectrum."