It would be a bit rich for AT&T to claim the new Softbank/Sprint/Clearwire hook-up would be gaining an unfair advantage , but it will. No sooner had the announcements by US operator, Sprint, that it would finally be achieving complete control over Clearwire and that Japanese giant, Softbank, would be taking a 70 per cent share did calls for an FCC probe come from AT&T. No surprise really, as the Sprint/Clearwire combination creates a substantial spectrum pool, ripe for LTE utilization.

It would be a bit rich for AT&T to claim the new entity would be gaining an unfair advantage because, until now, Sprint and Clearwire, as the third and fourth players in the US market, have clearly been disadvantaged by their much more formidable competitors in the shape of AT&T and Verizon. But throw in the argument that all those valuable spectrum assets, will be controlled by a foreign entity, then the argument takes on a whole new twist.

No doubt, the recent singling-out of Chinese vendors Huawei and ZTE, and their subsequent barring from certain contracts in the interest of national security, will be fresh in the minds of both the American public and the regulator. Not that Japanese control would or should raise the same concerns, after all, T-Mobile is owned by Deutsche Telekom. But, since when has normality or consistency played a key role in US communications regulation?

AT&T is probably smarting from being prevented from acquiring T-Mobile last year, a move that would have made it the largest mobile operator in the USA. Or is it that the Softbank/Sprint/Clearwire will have deep pockets and slew of LTS experience, gleaned from the Japanese market, making it a formidable force in the future? Perhaps it was the bold announcement by the new partners that T-Mobile might be their next target?

There are few hurdles to overcome before all this is likely to become a reality, but in the meantime, it looks like competition the US mobile market will be warming up considerably, despite the onset of winter.

First published at Telco Professionals on 29 October 2012