ORLANDO, Fla.—AT&T may not have announced its $39 billion acquisition of T-Mobile USA at CTIA Wireless 2011 itself – breaking the news on Sunday – but the historic deal gives a whole new context to the annual spring event, a major meeting ground for the wireless industry.
Aside from the considerable amount of buzz generated by the deal – and the fact that T-Mobile’s CEO dropped out of his keynote panel today – the merger of AT&T and T-Mobile could have a far-reaching impact on many attendees at the show, from vendors supplying equipment to AT&T and T-Mobile to the carriers’ roaming partners.
For some companies, the news will open up new business opportunities, but for others, the prospect of the AT&T/T-Mobile behemoth is a major competitive threat.
Stan La Ferr, director of business development at cell site development firm Black Dot Wireless, is upbeat about what the deal means to his company. “AT&T is our biggest client right now, so it’s a good thing for us,” La Ferr says.
AT&T’s planned merger with T-Mobile could open up more chances for Black Dot to get contracts managing cell sites, since the deal will increase AT&T’s network density by 30 percent in some markets. AT&T says it would have taken the company five years or more to build out the cell sites it will gain by acquiring T-Mobile.
On the other end of the spectrum are companies like DTC Wireless, a rural wireless cooperative serving eight counties in rural Tennessee. Tim Robinson, a network technician for DTC, says the merger of AT&T and T-Mobile will give DTC less leverage when negotiating reciprocal roaming agreements. “When you don’t have competition, you lose your leverage,” Robinson says. “It’s not good news for us.”
For some companies, the effect of a merger between AT&T and T-Mobile will be less dramatic. Rob McNabb, marketing director at wireless operator Bermuda Digital Communications, says the deal might have a minor effect on Bermuda’s roaming agreements, but not in the near future. “It will be a long time before anything happens,” McNabb says, citing the fact that the merger still has to go through regulatory approval. “It will be one of the last things on our list.”
No matter the impact on individual companies, there’s no denying that AT&T’s announcement will have a considerable influence on the tone of the show as attendees try to grasp what the deal may mean for their companies.
Ken Hyers, an analyst with Technology Business Research, half-jokingly calls the merger the “biggest pre-CTIA announcement.” He says attendees at the sessions he went to Monday had questions about how the combination of AT&T and T-Mobile would affect peripherally related areas of the wireless industry, such as mobile commerce.
“It does suck a lot of oxygen out of the room. People are going to be bringing up how the AT&T/T-Mobile tie-up affects things,” Hyers says. “These types of deals don’t happen all that often.”
With AT&T’s announcement serving as the send-off to this year’s spring CTIA show, the conference is sure to be an eventful one – and it’s barely even started.