Just when you think the chances of a new U.S. wireless carrier are slim to none, another opportunity seems to crop up. After the recent government spectrum auction ended with incumbents winning most of the licenses, some were disappointed. But now, NextWave Wireless says it is looking to sell its U.S. airwaves, which could potentially be worth billions and provide enough spectrum to create a new nationwide network. Release.
The San Diego-based company, which also develops multimedia and wireless broadband gear, is saying it has hired Deutsche Bank and UBS to explore the sale of its spectrum, which it says covers more than 251 million people and includes markets such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco and Boston. If the spectrum is sold at similarly prices paid in the recent 700 Mhz auction, NextWave’s licenses could be worth up to $6 billion, according to the AP. That may be difficult to get because of the radio characteristics, and the fact that they are in three different bands, which would make it difficult to sell to one owner. Some of the licenses are in the 2.5 Ghz band that Sprint (NYSE: S) and Clearwire (NSDQ: CLWR) are using for WiMax. “Since the completion of the recent 700 MHz auction, we have received multiple offers for our U.S. spectrum assets…we no longer view our spectrum holdings as critical to reaching our product sales objectives,” said NextWave’s CEO Allen Salmasi.
The sale of the airwaves will be a very positive event for the company, which has had a touch-and-go past. In 1996, it bid $4.74 billion to buy the rights to 95 spectrum licenses, but the company couldn’t make its payments and filed for bankruptcy protection, AP said. The FCC took back and re-auctioned the licenses, but NextWave took the fight all the way to the Supreme Court, which agreed that bankruptcy law protected it from seizure of its assets. The company emerged from bankruptcy in 2005. Many people were disappointed in the process, saying the unused spectrum was holding back innovation and progress in the wireless industry. Of course, incumbents could purchase this spectrum, too. Companies interested in buying the spectrum are likely those that participated in the last auction. They include incumbents such as T-Mobile USA, Verizon (NYSE: VZ), or AT&T (NYSE: T), but also companies such as Google (NSDQ: GOOG) or Comcast.