AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T) said Friday it has agreed to buy prepaid wireless provider Leap Wireless International Inc. (NASDAQ:LEAP) for about $1.19 billion, or $15 per share, in an all-cash deal. AT&T is paying almost double the current value of Leap, which closed at $7.98 Friday, but whose shares rose to $17.31 in after-hours trading following the announcement of the deal.
Dallas-based AT&T will acquire all of Leap’s equity, as well as other assets, including its spectrum, wireless properties, licenses, retail stores and about 5 million subscribers. The deal will help the country’s second-largest wireless provider to enter and build its base in the lucrative prepaid market.
“The combined company will have the financial resources, scale and spectrum to better compete with other major national providers for customers interested in low-cost prepaid service,” AT&T said in a statement.
San Diego-based Leap operates in 35 U.S. states and the company had a net debt of $2.8 billion, which puts the deal’s valuation at about $4 billion. AT&T said it will keep Leap’s Cricket brand name and expand its high-speed data network, 4G LTE, to Leap’s customers.
Once the deal is completed, AT&T will get access to Leap’s unused spectrum, which covers about 41 million people.
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“Having more spectrum means having more capacity and being able to meet those long-term data demands,” Charles Golvin, a technology analyst with the research firm Forrester told the Associated Press. “Just like you can never be too thin or too pretty, you can never have too much spectrum.”
Analysts anticipate more such deals in the telecommunications sector, as carriers struggle to acquire more wireless spectrum to cater to bandwidth-hungry customers.
“The next wave of consolidation is beginning in wireless. This deal ... is an example of such a deal that not only helps AT&T get their hands on more spectrum, customers and revenues, but also further consolidates the industry,” said independent telecom analyst Jeff Kagan, according to Reuters. “Expect to see more deals with Verizon, Sprint and others,” Kagan added.
This month, the Japanese wireless carrier Softbank Corp. (OTCMKTS:SFTBF) completed its acquisition of the Sprint Nextel Corp. (NYSE:S) for $21.6 billion, and, in April, T-Mobile US Inc. (NYSE:TMUS), the fourth-largest carrier in the country, completed its purchase of MetroPCS Communications Inc.
AT&T said it expects the Leap deal to be finalized in six to nine months, subject to review by the Federal Communications Commission, the U.S. Justice Department and the companies themselves.
In 2011, AT&T agreed to acquire T-Mobile for $39 billion. But federal regulators scuttled the deal, citing antitrust concerns.