Sabtu, 26 April 2008

NEW YORK - NextWave Wireless Inc. is looking to sell its vast holdings of licenses for U.S. airwaves, which are worth billions of dollars and could allow a new market entrant to create a nearly nationwide wireless network.

The San Diego-based company said late Wednesday that it had hired Deutsche Bank and UBS to assist in the sale of its spectrum holdings, which cover 85 percent of the U.S. population. That includes major markets like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco.

If valued according to the average price in the recent airwaves auction conducted by the Federal Communications Commission, NextWave's licenses are worth $6 billion. However, it is unlikely it would get that much, since the radio characteristics of its spectrum make it more expensive to put to use, at least initially.

The company paid about $500 million for the airwaves, according to George Alex, the company's chief financial officer.

NextWave shares rose $1.95, or 41 percent, to close at $6.70 Thursday.

The FCC auction for licenses in the 700 megahertz band, which concluded in March, is one of the reasons NextWave has chosen to sell, Alex said in an interview.

"The 700 megahertz auction was exceptional in the prices that they achieved," Alex said. "We've had a lot of inbound inquiry ... A lot of people were unfulfilled in their needs by 700. They'd amassed the business plans and the money they needed to participate in that auction, so now they're looking for other alternatives."

The spectrum is unused now, but a large swath of it is tied up in FCC proceedings to sort out interference issues with satellite radio transmissions. The holdings are in three different bands, which makes it more complicated for a single buyer to put all of them to use, but Alex said NextWave makes equipment that could allow a service provider to stitch them together.

NextWave started out with a plan to use the airwaves with its own equipment, but it now focuses on making and selling the gear and letting others operate the networks. Among other things, it makes chips for WiMax, a next-generation wireless standard being deployed by Sprint Nextel Corp. Some of the licenses now up for sale are in the 2.5 gigahertz band that Sprint plans to use for WiMax, a wireless data networking technology.

Alex said the money from the spectrum sale will be used to retire debt and invest in the company's products. No special dividend for shareholders is planned.

NextWave has a problematic history in the wireless business. In 1996, it bid $4.74 billion to buy the rights to 95 spectrum licenses, big enough to cover nearly 94 million people. But the company couldn't make its payments and filed for bankruptcy protection.

The FCC took back and re-auctioned the licenses, but NextWave argued that bankruptcy law protected it from seizure of its assets. It took the fight all the way to the Supreme Court, which sided with it. The company emerged from bankruptcy in 2005, a year after it reached a settlement with the FCC.

NextWave sold some of the licenses from the 1996 auction to Verizon Wireless, Cingular (now AT&T Inc.), and MetroPCS Communications Inc. It returned others to the FCC.

NextWave's current spectrum holdings derive from another FCC auction in 2005, in which it spent $115.5 million, and from acquisitions from other companies.


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AP Business Writer Barbara Ortutay contributed to this report.


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