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AT&T Making Airwaves

The big telco grabs some wireless spectrum ahead of a key auction.

AT&T (T) - Get AT&T Inc. Report got a jump on next year's radio wave auction with a $2.5 billion bid for Aloha Partners' 700-megahertz spectrum licenses.

In the deal, AT&T would take ownership of former UHF channels 54 and 59, the so-called C block of wireless spectrum Aloha had acquired in the past few years. Aloha owned the largest swath of licenses covering about 80% of the population in the top 100 cities.

The move comes on the eve of the Federal Communications Commission's 700MHz license auction planned for Jan. 24. Analog UHF TV broadcasters have been ordered to vacate the radio waves to make the frequencies available to wireless services.

By federal agency estimates, the 60 MHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz auction could fetch somewhere between $10 billion and $15 billion for the U.S. Treasury.

Industry observers call the 700MHz spectrum prime radio wave property, given the ability of the signals in this range to flood wide zones and travel through walls. These properties open up the possibilities for broadband data and mobile TV services.

In addition to the usual suspects like


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, the spectrum auction has caught the attention of big names outside telecom. In July,


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offered to bid $4.6 billion in the auction if the FCC stuck the winners with a condition that the network be open to any devices. AT&T's deal with Aloha may have circumvented that requirement.

The deal would be a big jackpot for Aloha investors Amos "Bud" Hostetter, a cable industry billionaire, and Charlie Townsend, CEO of Aloha, the Providence, R.I., spectrum shop.

AT&T shares fell 3 cents to $41.90 in premarket trading Tuesday.