The AT&T deal to buy T-Mobile may have fallen through, but T-Mobile is hopeful federal regulators will approve a new agreement with Verizon Wireless. T-Mobile just announced a deal to acquire and exchange certain Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) spectrum licenses in 218 markets.

T-Mobile said the deal would improve its spectrum position in 15 of the top 25 markets in the U.S. The Verizon partnership is over and above T-Mobile's previously announced $4 billion 4G network evolution plan, which includes modernization of 37,000 cell sites, launching 4G HSPA+ services in the 1900 MHz band and then LTE deployment in 2013.

"This agreement will provide T-Mobile with critical AWS spectrum, enhancing both network capacity and performance and allowing us to meet the growing consumer demand for 4G mobile broadband," said Philipp Humm, president and CEO of T-Mobile. "This is good for T-Mobile and good for consumers because it will enable T-Mobile to compete even more vigorously with other wireless carriers."

The Cable Factor

Humm said T-Mobile expects FCC approval later this summer, in time for the wireless carrier to incorporate this new spectrum into its network modernization and the rollout of LTE services next year.

Some of the spectrum T-Mobile is acquiring in the deal includes licenses that Verizon is purchasing from Cox, Leap and SpectrumCo, a consortium of cable companies including Comcast and Time Warner. The agreement is contingent on the closing of those transactions and is subject to regulatory approval by both the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice.

Weston Henderek, principal analyst at Current Analysis, told us it was noteworthy the deal was contingent upon the Verizon cable spectrum deals winning regulatory approval.

"At CTIA Verizon was making statements about being willing to sell some of its other spectrum or partner if they could get the spectrum as part of the cable company deal," Henderek said. "By saying this deal is off if we don't get that deal approved, it's like a little bit of a behind the scenes effort to try and make it harder for the cable spectrum deal to be rejected" by the FCC.

Carriers Get More Creative

T-Mobile will gain spectrum covering 60 million people in Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; Detroit; Minneapolis; Seattle; Cleveland; Columbus, Ohio; Milwaukee; Charlotte, N.C.; Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Greensboro, N.C.; Memphis, Tenn.; and Rochester, N.Y. In exchange, T-Mobile will offer Verizon a license for spectrum covering 22 million people and an undisclosed cash payment.

The agreement also includes exchanges in a number of markets in which the companies will swap licenses to create more contiguous blocks of spectrum and re-align spectrum in adjacent markets. T-Mobile said these intra-market swaps will enhance its network performance and data throughput in key locations.

"Carriers are going to get more creative as they start to see the effects on the network of such dramatic data usage growth," Henderek said. "Obviously they are worried about enough new spectrum being made available over the long term.

"But even in the short-term carriers are going to be much more creative in order to get this to work effectively across the different blocks of spectrum across the country."