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AT&T is bulking up capacity on its LTE network with spectrum buy

AT&T(s t) has agreed to buy 4G licenses in 14 states from spectrum speculator Aloha Partners, gaining spectrum in key cities like San Francisco, Austin, San Antonio, Denver, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Indianapolis. The companies didn’t reveal the price tag of the transaction.

Now that AT&T is nearly done with its initial LTE rollout, it’s shifting its focus from building network coverage to adding more network capacity, just as its archrival Verizon Wireless(s vz)(s vod) is doing. It’s looking to expand into different frequency bands beyond the 700 MHz airwaves its current LTE network resides on, and it’s becoming apparent that it’s targeting the same Advanced Wireless Service (AWS) bands used by T-Mobile and Verizon for that new network.

Aloha's AWS spectrum holdings covering 50 million people
Aloha’s AWS spectrum holdings covering 50 million people

That’s a little surprising since AT&T has lacked key geographic coverage at AWS, and in fact, it was forced to give up a lot of those 1700/2100 MHz airwaves to T-Mobile as a consolation prize when its merger failed. But in the last year, it’s been trying to rebuild its frequency collection. It’s attempting to buy Leap Wireless, a key AWS holder in many cities, and the Aloha deal will bulk up its holdings further.

AT&T isn’t focusing on a single spectrum band for the next phase of its LTE rollout, though. It’s already launched LTE in the PCS band – borrowing bandwidth from its older 2G and 3G networks – in Baltimore, Dallas, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. It also has plans to use 2.3 GHz frequencies and possibly even its original cellular frequencies for 4G as well.

AT&T doesn’t have the contiguous airwaves to string together the LTE monsters Verizon and T-Mobile(s tmus) are currently deploying, at least not yet. But it can certainly add plenty of incremental capacity to its network – enough to keep its 4G customers happy. Combined with AT&T’s aggressive plan to seed its networks with small cells, its LTE networks are about to get a lot more powerful.

As for Aloha Partners, AT&T has a long history with the spectrum squatter. Ma Bell bought its original 4G airwaves from Aloha in 2007, and now it’s taking possession of its AWS airwaves after they’ve sat dormant for eight years.

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