When Verizon decides it wants something, an extra $1.5 billion is no problem. According to the Wall Street Journal, America's biggest cellular provider has agreed to spend $3.1 billion — $1.5 billion more than AT&T's initial purchase offer — to acquire Straight Path Communications, which has one of the largest battle chests of potential 5G spectrum in the U.S.
The interesting part about this deal is that in April AT&T actually announced the acquisition on its website, claiming that with Straight Path, and a previous purchase of FiberTower back in January, it would have the spectrum necessary to roll out one major part of its impending 5G network (its real one, not the fake kind). Specifically, Straight Path controls hundreds of megahertz of so-called millimeter wave spectrum, up in the 28GHz and 39GHz range, which allows for immense amounts of data to be passed very quickly over short distances. Along with more medium and low-band spectrum, millimeter wave will comprise much of the 5G backhaul where wired options, such as cable or fiber, can't reach.
Clearly Verizon saw the value of such spectrum, since it nearly doubled AT&T's initial offer and spent nearly eight times what the stock was worth back in April. This is very good news for Straight Path investors — at least the ones that stayed with the company through an FCC investigation that targeted unused spectrum. Straight Path ended up paying a small fine to the regulator, but also inked a deal to pay 20% of the cost of the licenses; new suitor Verizon will have to pay those fees, along with a $38 million breakage fee to AT&T.
Considering the first 5G networks, which won't incorporate this millimeter wave technology, are not expected to roll out for another two to three years, it's interesting to see Verizon spending so generously on spectrum that may only be integral to next-generation networks in half a decade or more.
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