AT&T Buying Centennial Communications

Saturday, November 8, 2008 | 53 comments »

In its second wireless deal in two days (after buy WiFi company Wayport), AT&T announced Friday evening that it would buy Centennial Communications, a regional wireless phone company, for $944 million in cash, a price that is more than double Centennial’s stock market value. It will also expand its wireless network in Puerto Rico and other regions of the United States, reports Reuters.

Centennial has 1.1 million wireless subscribers, of which about 40 percent are in Puerto Rico, where it has a market penetration of about 11 percent. It also has about 596,700 access lines for business customers in Puerto Rico.

“The transaction will enhance AT&T’s wireless coverage for customers in largely rural areas of the Midwest and Southeast United States and in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands,” AT&T said in a statement.

AT&T has nearly 75 million wireless subscribers and aims to obtain approval for the deal from Centennial shareholders and regulators by the second quarter of 2009.

Analysts have said that rural phone companies need to consolidate to cut costs, as more consumers cancel home phones to go completely wireless or switch to all-in-one phone, television and Internet packages offered by cable companies or national phone companies.

Verizon Communications is buying rural wireless service provider Alltel for $28.1 billion, which will help it overtake AT&T as the largest U.S. wireless service provider. Meanwhile, CenturyTel announced a deal last month to buy rival rural phone company Embarq for $5.8 billion in stock.

“The big continue to get bigger,” Nelson said. “It’s becoming increasingly difficult for the smaller carriers to compete against the large national carriers.”

An AT&T spokesman said there was some overlap in their markets, primarily in the southeastern United States and Puerto Rico, but there was “robust competition” in these areas. In the Midwest, he said Centennial’s network primarily covered rural areas and complemented AT&T’s network.

“I don’t think it’s the last of AT&T’s acquisitions. Nor Verizon’s,” said Comack. “They’re going to use their mass to do tuck-in acquisitions like this.”


Top 20 USA Phone Companies
Source: Wikipedia
#1 AT&T Mobility 74.91M subs (09/08) Will be 2nd largest after VZ mergers
#2 Verizon Wireless 70.8M subs (09/08) Acquiring Alltel & Unicel
#3 Sprint Nextel 51.91M subs (06/08) Excludes Xohm
#4 T-Mobile USA 32.11M subs (09/08) Owned by Deutsche Telekom
#5 Alltel 13.6M subs (09/08) being acquired by Verizon Wireless
#6 TracFone Wireless 10.45M (09/08) largest virtual operator, uses other celcos
#7 U.S. Cellular 6.18M subs (09/08)
#8 Virgin Mobile 5M subs (06/08) MVNO, currently acquiring Helio
#9 MetroPCS 4.85M subs (09/08)
#10 Cricket 3.42M subs (09/08) Includes Jump Mobile
#11 Unicel .79M subs (09/08) being integrated into Verizon
#12 Qwest Wireless .77M (09/08) Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO)
#13 Cellular South .7M subs (09/08)
#14 Centennial Wireless .66M subs (09/08) Being bought by ATT
#15 Cincinnati Bell .57M subs (09/08)
#16 nTelos .43M subs (09/08)
#17 SouthernLINC .28M subs (09/08)
#18 Movida Wireless .27M (09/08)
#19 Helio .17M subs (09/08) being acquired by Virgin Mobile USA
#20 Alaska Communications .15M (09/08)

In other news, MetroPCS Communications and Leap Wireless will offer free roaming onto each other’s networks, reports RCR Wireless News.

Leap’s markets (Cricket) will be free to MetroPCS customers signed up for the carrier’s $45- and $50-per-month service plans, and can be added to other plans for $5 per month, with similar offers by MetroPCS.

Sam Churchill
www.dailywireless.org

Wayport Acquisition Puts AT&T at Top; Boingo Still Has Leverage

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Wayport acquisition by AT&T makes me go whoompf: Yesterday’s announcement that AT&T would purchase hotspot operator Wayport for $275m in cash gave me pause for reflection. I started covering the Wi-Fi field in late 2000, spurred by testing Apple’s AirPort system, which, despite being on the market for a year, I was quite dubious about. It worked well, and it led me to find that Wi-Fi was being deployed as an amenity. I hopped on the story, and wrote a very early feature for The New York Times about public-space Wi-Fi in airports, cafes, and elsewhere. (See The Web, Without Wires, Wherever, 22-Feb-2001.)

Of the firms mentioned in the article, several disappeared within a year. And later startups like Cometa had big runs up and then giant flameouts. (I run down the failures as well as some other details of the Wayport deal at Ars Technica.)

Wayport may have survived and thrived due to two moves. First, the operator was an early partner with Boingo, renegotiating its contracts with venues to allow the pricing model of wholesale aggregation resale to work. On a panel at 802.11 Planet after Boingo launched, if I recall correctly, Wi-Fi veteran Phil Belanger (then at Wayport) explained that contracts with its venues needed to be renegotiated, but it was worth it to increase volume of use.

Wayport was right. Firms that resisted reasonable resale pricing or availability seem to have all gone by the wayside. The latest of these was T-Mobile, which had very restrictive roaming/resale agreements, and was replaced at Starbucks by AT&T, which has expansive agreements.

The other element was Wayport grabbing the McDonald’s contract through the use of a still-innovative pricing model. Instead of reselling sessions at McDonald’s to aggregators or others, Wayport offered only a flat rate based on the piece of the McDonald’s network that a reseller sliced. It had hoped to get cable systems interested as a competitive tool against 2.5G networks and other telecom advantages. It didn’t happen.

But the Wi-Fi World model, as it called the program at launch, proved the right approach for consumer electronics and gaming firms, like Nintendo for its Wi-Fi-enabled DS system, ZipIt Wireless for its instant-messaging handheld for teens, and Eye-Fi for the geotagging Explore model of its Wi-Fi memory card.

Wayport also was able to snag AT&T as a resale partner early on; AT&T was providing backhaul to many stores, and wound up buying access to resell to some of its customers. That later expanded into Wayport becoming AT&T’s managed services provider, and AT&T slowly but dramatically expanding cheap ($1.99 per month) and then free access to its base Wi-Fi network to a large portion of its wireline, fiber, business, and smartphone customers.

I’d say Wi-Fi World paid off as an approach.

Some might ask where this puts Boingo in relation to AT&T. Since Boingo is an aggregator, the advantage of which is to take many disparate networks and repackage them for resale at a predictable and reasonable price, why would you need Boingo when you can get 20,000 U.S. locations at no cost (if you’re a qualifying AT&T subscriber) or as part of AT&T’s own aggregated worldwide network of 80,000 locations ($20 per month for non-subscribers; $10 per month for those who qualify for free service)?

I checked with Boingo yesterday, and it has about 24,000 U.S. locations in its network. So…that’s nearly 85 percent AT&T when the Wayport acquisition closes. But don’t worry about Boingo. The company has a trump card: Airports.

Its acquisition a few years ago of Concourse Communications gave them the golden ticket: Boingo controls Wi-Fi access in most major airports in North America. AT&T and T-Mobile each have a handful that they operate, but Boingo has the big plums. Boingo operates the big NY/NJ airports (EWR, JFK, LGA), Detroit, Minneapolis, Chicago (ORD and Midway), and on and on. The firm has 24 airports, most of them biggies, across the U.S.

Boingo told me some time ago that the Concourse acquisition was partly for revenue, partly for marketing, and partly for strategy. With airports in hand, it has better bargaining power with networks onto which it wants its users to roam, including outside the U.S.

If AT&T were to try to push to hard as the new Wayport owner with 85 percent of Boingo’s domestic footprint, Boingo has the counterbalance of the critical airports that AT&T’s business travelers want—and increasingly consumer and leisure travelers as those categories of passenger carry mobile devices that rely on a Wi-Fi network for their sole or best performance. (Think iPod Touch as well as iPhone.)

The end of Wayport spells the end of a long period in which many hotspot operators were in play. Now it’s AT&T and a number of much smaller firms—T-Mobile will still have perhaps 3,000 locations—and company-operated networks, like Panera, run through in-house divisions or through managed services.

By Glenn Fleishman

AT&T iPhone Customers to Receive Free Access to Nation's Largest Wi-Fi Network

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There are now 17,000 more reasons for smart shoppers to buy a smartphone from AT&T. AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) announced it will begin offering free AT&T Wi-Fi service to current and new iPhone 3G and iPhone customers. AT&T has the nation's largest Wi-Fi network, with more than 17,000 hot spots including Starbucks, Barnes & Noble, and thousands of other locations.

AT&T plans to make the offer available to more mobile devices in the future. Additional details, including instructions on how to access the hot spots, are available at http://www.attwifi.com .

"AT&T is committed to providing its customers with the best connectivity at the best value," said David Christopher, chief marketing officer of AT&T's mobility business unit. "We have the industry's leading lineup of smartphones, along with the nation's largest Wi-Fi network. It only makes sense for us to bring these unique capabilities together for our customers."

Free Wi-Fi access is also available with all AT&T small business broadband plans, AT&T U-verse(SM) High Speed Internet plans and with qualified AT&T LaptopConnect plans. For customers without an AT&T broadband or smartphone plan, Wi-Fi subscriptions are available for $19.99 a month, providing worldwide access to both AT&T and partner locations.

www.wifizonenews.com

AT&T to Acquire Wayport; Combined Wi-Fi Networks to Provide Connectivity in More Places

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Millions of AT&T Customers to Get Free Wi-Fi Access at Nearly 20,000 U.S. Hotspots

DALLAS and AUSTIN, Texas, Nov. 6 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T - News) announced today that it has agreed, through one of its subsidiaries, to acquire privately-held Wayport, Inc., a leading provider of managed Wi-Fi services in the United States, for approximately $275 million in cash. The deal adds Wayport's focused capabilities and enterprise customer portfolio with AT&T's leading Internet Protocol (IP) and 3G networks, and broad consumer and business customer bases, to deliver enhanced broadband connectivity at home, in the office, on the road, and virtually anywhere in between.

The acquisition expands the AT&T Wi-Fi(SM) footprint to nearly 20,000 domestic hotspots, takes the company's global Wi-Fi presence to more than 80,000 locations*, and creates thousands of new ways for customers worldwide to stay in touch. Millions of AT&T customers -- plus millions of other consumers needing to connect on the go -- will benefit from access to new hotspot locations served by Wayport. Wayport hotspots are in key locations, including select Wyndham, Marriott Vacation Club and Four Seasons hotels; HealthSouth and Sun Healthcare locations; plus McDonald's restaurants.

AT&T's global brand, marketing leadership and extensive enterprise sales force will complement Wayport's expertise in enabling and managing applications over an integrated network. Wayport will also extend AT&T's reach in the hospitality, health care, education and retail sectors.

"We're seeing exponential growth of Wi-Fi-enabled devices -- such as smartphones -- combined with a continued dependency on 24/7, anytime, anywhere Internet access across business and consumer market segments," said John Stankey, president and CEO, AT&T Operations. "Now is the right time for AT&T to affirm our commitment to Wi-Fi leadership. By acquiring Wayport, we're giving consumers more ways to stay in touch and building a more robust network management solution for businesses. We're bringing ready access to the nation's leading Wi-Fi, wireless and IP networks -- on a global scale."

Delivering Greater Value to Consumers

More than ever before, customers worldwide are using AT&T's expansive network to serve today's growing demand for more connectivity in more places -- which is driven by the proliferation of Wi-Fi-enabled devices.

This acquisition enhances AT&T's Wi-Fi presence in the United States, and it delivers a seamless, consistent communications experience to customers at home or on the go -- from one company.

-- Nearly 300 million Wi-Fi-enabled devices were shipped in 2007. Nearly1 billion are predicted by 2012.**
-- With the surge of Wi-Fi-enabled devices, such as smartphones, portable computers, gaming devices and cameras, more consumers can enjoy the benefits of anytime, anywhere access from the nation's largest Wi-Fi network.
-- A broader and deeper AT&T Wi-Fi network means more free connectivity for millions of AT&T customers, including select AT&T smartphone customers, AT&T LaptopConnect customers and AT&T High Speed Internet (including U-verse(SM)) subscribers.

Providing Solutions for Enterprise Customers

The acquisition complements AT&T's ability to deliver a complete end-to-end solution for businesses worldwide with Wayport's experience in facilitating business applications and managing public access to the Internet over a single network. As Wayport currently provides back-office management for AT&T's Wi-Fi Hot Spots, the acquisition expands such capabilities and brings management of Wi-Fi infrastructure completely under AT&T management.

The combined company will be able to deliver a more cost-effective and streamlined solution for enterprises -- and their customers -- by providing more anytime, anywhere access to end-user applications. Plus, with both the back-office infrastructure and end-user content application managed by one company, businesses can reduce operating costs, enhance and customize their customers' experience and reach more customers in new innovative ways."AT&T's premier capabilities in both the enterprise and consumer industries will take Wayport's strength in delivering Wi-Fi solutions over converged networks to an entirely new level," said Dave Vucina, chairman and chief executive officer of Wayport.

-- AT&T will provide a comprehensive solution for businesses seeking converged and managed network capabilities -- on one network -- with global reach, while also ringing ready access to the nation's largest Wi-Fi, wireless and leading global IP network.
-- Enterprise customers will be able to better utilize private-side applications
-- effectively managing costs and increasing productivitylevels -- including inventory management, remote employee learning, point-of-sale applications and remote security monitoring.
-- A unified solution will drive new business partnerships, leveraging AT&T's unique, innovative services and applications available to enterprise customers.
-- Enterprise customers will benefit from new, revenue-generating opportunities with AT&T's ability to bring customized, location-based messaging and advertising to more touch points -- via a streamlined Wi-Fi solution -- reaching more end-users.

"AT&T's ability to reach and service tens of millions of customers will greatly expand the value we currently bring to our customers. As part of AT&T, we'll bring new and better solutions to our customers on a global scale, with greater reach and more innovative services."

The transaction is expected to close as early as the fourth quarter of 2008.

    *  Including roaming locations
** In-Stat, 2008.

About AT&T

AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T - News) is a premier communications holding company. Its subsidiaries and affiliates, AT&T operating companies, are the providers of AT&T services in the United States and around the world. Among their offerings are the world's most advanced IP-based business communications services and the nation's leading wireless, high speed Internet access and voice services. In domestic markets, AT&T is known for the directory publishing and advertising sales leadership of its Yellow Pages and YELLOWPAGES.COM organizations, and the AT&T brand is licensed to innovators in such fields as communications equipment. As part of its three-screen integration strategy, AT&T is expanding its TV entertainment offerings. In 2008, AT&T again ranked No. 1 on Fortune magazine's World's Most Admired Telecommunications Company list and No. 1 on America's Most Admired Telecommunications Company list. Additional information about AT&T Inc. and the products and services provided by AT&T subsidiaries and affiliates is available at http://www.att.com.

© 2008 AT&T Intellectual Property. All rights reserved. AT&T, the AT&T logo and all other marks contained herein are trademarks of AT&T Intellectual Property and/or AT&T affiliated companies. All other marks contained herein are the property of their respective owners.

About Wayport, Inc.

Founded in 1996, Wayport enables breakthrough public and private applications over an integrated network platform which creates new business opportunities and operational efficiencies. Wayport serves notable brands in a variety of vertical markets, including AT&T customers through a managed service agreement. Wayport helps clients create new business capabilities and improve operational efficiencies at premier venues including major hotels, hospitals, McDonald's and Hertz locations, and other retail brands worldwide. Wayport's investors include Sevin Rosen Funds, INVESCO Private Capital, New Enterprise Associates, Scale Venture Partners, Trellis Partners, Advanced Equities, Inc., Lucent Venture Partners, GC Technology Fund, Sanders Morris Harris, Star Ventures and GIC.

Note: This AT&T news release and other announcements are available as part of an RSS feed at http://www.att.com/rss. For more information, please review this announcement in the AT&T newsroom at http://www.att.com/newsroom.


www.fiercewireless.com

Wi-Fi Product Watch 2008

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The BlackBerry Bold arrived yesterday. The new and much ballyhooed Wi-Fi-enabled BlackBerry with what is said to be a truly gorgeous half VGA 480 x 320 pixels, 65k color TFT display from carrier AT&T is being called the "fastest, most powerful BlackBerry ever." RIM is basing those claims on the processor speed and AT&T's 3G network.

SanDisk has reached yet another milestone in the battle to squeeze more and more storage in a finite amount of space. Earlier this fall, it became the first to announce microSDHC and Memory Stick Micro (also referred to as M2) memory cards with 16GB storage capacities.

SanDisk's 16GB microSDHC card ($99.99) is available now at Best Buy. The 16GB Memory Stick Micro ($129.99) should be available soon. Both are expected to be available at Verizon Wireless locations in November, as well. SanDisk is offering a five-year limited warranty on these new cards.

Tiny fingernail-sized microSDHC cards are also available in 4GB and 8GB from SanDisk. It is a very popular format in cell phones and smartphones, but can also be found in many other devices, including video cameras, GPS receivers and MP3 players.

Memory Stick Micro cards, which are about the same size as microSDs, are designed for Sony Ericsson's latest mobile phone and smartphone models. They also come in 2GB, 4GB, and 8GB capacities.

"Flash memory cards have increased in storage capacity, but even an 8GB card may be too small for anyone with GPS map data, a few movies, a game or two, a presentation file and other applications. There is an acute need for more mobile storage capacity," according to analyst Avi Greengart of Current Analysis. "16GB gives consumers the ability to carry their digital content with them and still have room to do more with their mobile phones."

SanDisk is the same company that fended off a buyout offer from Samsung recently. It also, somewhat boldly, introduced a new music-media format.

Called slotMusic, the music distribution format pre-loads an album onto a microSD card. The point of slotMusic, for which all the major labels are onboard, is to allow users to buy and use music without being dependent on a PC or internet connection. They simply insert the card into their microSD-enabled device to hear it.

The music is DRM-free, of high quality (320 kbps), and can be used instantly with any MP3 player, cell phone, etc. with a microSD slot. The cards will be packaged with a tiny USB sleeve, so they'll be easy to use and compatible with PCs (Windows, Linux, and Mac), as well.

SanDisk says the cards will be sold in rick-and-mortar and online stores throughout the U.S., including Best Buy and Wal-Mart, with Europe to follow. They should go for between $7 and $10.

[Article adapted from PDAStreet.com.]

**

Epson America has put a new brand at the top of its inkjet printer line. The Artisan 700 and 800 are elegantly styled home and home-office printer/copier/scanners that emphasize creative applications, printing 4-by-6-inch photos in as little as ten seconds along with text documents at 38 pages per minute (ppm).

Bbeneath their piano black finishes, the Artisans feature six-color Ultra Hi-Definition Claria ink with five droplet sizes for what Epsons says are "vivid, true-to-life photos with up to four times the fade resistance of photo lab prints."

Automatic photo correction and red-eye removal functions can be previewed on the model 700's 2.5-inch and model 800's 3.5-inch color LCD. Productivity features include standard duplex printing and built-in Wi-Fi, as well as Ethernet networking.

Standing just 5.9 inches tall, the Artisan 700 ($200) offers 2,400-dpi, 48-bit color scanning to a PC, memory card, or USB flash drive; card slots for printing images without a PC; and one-touch color and black and white copying with fit-to-page printing and background removal for clean copies of text documents. Each can create photo layouts with various size photos on a single sheet of paper, or even turn plain paper into college-ruled or graph paper for school.

The Artisan 800 ($300) adds faxing with a 30-page automatic document feeder, as well as 4,800-dpi scanning and a 7.8-inch touch panel that lights up only the buttons necessary for easy selecting, copying, enlarging, rotating, cropping, and printing of photos.

By Naomi Graychase
www.wi-fiplanet.com