AT&T Agrees to Pay as Much as $600 Million for NextWave

AT&T Inc., the largest U.S. telephone company, agreed to buy NextWave Wireless Inc. in a deal worth as much as $600 million in cash, giving it more airwaves to provide mobile Internet services.

Under the agreement, AT&T will pay about $25 million to shareholders of San Diego-based NextWave, plus a contingent payment of an additional $25 million, according to a statement today. In a separate deal with the once-bankrupt company’s lenders, AT&T will acquire NextWave’s debt, bringing the deal’s total value to $600 million.

Mobile-phone carriers are racing to add more airwaves as they roll out new services and congestion grows on current networks. NextWave holds licenses for Wireless Communication Services, or WCS, which would start being used for mobile Internet access for the first time under a plan by AT&T and Sirius XM Radio Inc. The Federal Communications Commission is weighing the proposal, submitted in June.

“WCS spectrum was first auctioned in 1997, but has not been utilized for mobile Internet usage due to technical rules designed to avoid possible interference to satellite radio users in adjacent spectrum bands,” Dallas-based AT&T said today in the statement. The Sirius proposal “effectively creates much-needed new spectrum capacity.”

AT&T expects to complete the NextWave transaction by the end of the year, assuming it passes regulatory hurdles. If its Sirius proposal is approved, the company plans to start using WCS spectrum for fourth-generation wireless service in about three years. That could help support surging traffic on smartphones and tablets, AT&T said.

AT&T fell less than 1 percent to $37.54 at the close in New York. The shares have climbed 24 percent this year.

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