It is now official. Major American wireless carrier AT&T has acquired Mexican wireless carrier Iusacell for $2.5 billion. With this acquisition, AT&T is now the first mobile carrier in the United States to operate wireless networks on both sides of the US-Mexican border.
Because Iusacell only has 9.2 million subscribers (which places it third among Mexican wireless carriers), AT&T will not be getting that much additional customers to its fold. But the American carrier does get access to Iusacell's GSM and CDMA network, which to date covers 120 million wireless users.
By taking over Iusacell, AT&T now has the capacity to build a unified network that covers more than 400 million users in total across North America. As to whether the quality of network coverage on standard AT&T plans will be as good on Mexican cities (especially in rural areas), that remains to be seen.
It is likely that AT&T will start introducing specific plans for travelers who frequently cross the US-Mexican border. Or maybe begin cooking up schemes that offer cheap rates for any calls made to Mexico from the US. America Movil, the largest mobile carrier in Mexico, has a similar set-up via its mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) partner TracFone. One of TracFone's brands, Telcel America, offers a $60 plan that already includes 1,000 minutes of calls to mobile numbers in Mexico as well as unrestricted calls to Mexican landlines, plus unlimited calls and text messaging within the US.
AT&T has named one of its veteran head executives, Thaddeus Arroyo, as the chief executive officer of the newly acquired Iusacell. Former Iusacell CEO Adrian Stickel will assist in the transition phase. Arroyo's tasks now concern making roaming between US and Mexico easier, although it helps that Iusacell is in the process of transitioning from CDMA technology to GSM.
But wait -- how can Mexico-based wireless users benefit from the AT&T takeover? AT&T has promised that it will bring LTE services to Mexico, which should be attractive to Mexican users, and maybe even help in boosting Iusacell's current 9 million customer base. Mexico already has a blossoming middle class, but smartphone penetration is still relatively unimpressive (at least compared to that of the US). But with LTE services readily available in Mexican markets, we could see a lot of Mexicans sign up for AT&T sometime soon.
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