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updated 3/21/2011 6:49:09 PM ET 2011-03-21T22:49:09

AT&T's announcement that it is acquiring T-Mobile USA has left subscribers to the two wireless carriers wondering how they will be affected.

First, it's critical to note that nothing is changing right away. The deal depends on the approval of the Federal Communications Commission, which may frown upon the idea of the second- and fourth-largest wireless providers joining forces and thereby limiting customers' wireless market options.

In addition, the agreement is but the first step in a long process that is expected to be completed in about a year. Until then, AT&T and T-Mobile will remain separate, independently operating companies, according to a statement on T-Mobile’s website.

So there will be no change in service for now, and T-Mobile users won’t be receiving an AT&T bill in the mail anytime soon.

As for hardware, T-Mobile's website said that "your T-Mobile USA device will operate the same in the future as it does today."

The Associated Press has reported, however, that AT&T plans to upgrade T-Mobile's cellular towers to transmit in 4G, the faster next generation of data transfer. Anyone still holding a T-Mobile 3G device at that time would no longer have access to 3G services and would have to either switch to an AT&T 3G device or go 4G.

Better coverage

The acquisition offers strong incentives for current AT&T customers not to leave the service for competitors such as Verizon. The likelihood that AT&T's coverage will be better also could attract new subscribers.

The deal will allow AT&T to gain control over T-Mobile cellular towers. This means customers would have faster service with fewer dropped calls and more data reliability — so, for example, they could stream video via a smartphone with fewer interruptions.

"Since the deal will give the AT&T network more resources and capabilities to grow its cell and 3G networks, as well as building its sophisticated 4G network, it's a great move for AT&T and customers will be pleased,” said Mark Beccue, senior analyst at ABI Research.

Fewer pricing plans

Although the benefits for AT&T's current subscribers are clear, T-Mobile users will be faced with deciding which carrier to select. T-Mobile has positioned itself as the go-to network for those seeking value at the cheapest price. AT&T's focus is different.

"AT&T's philosophy is providing a higher quality of data offerings and a better level of service even if it comes with a higher price tag," Beccue said. "AT&T won't likely change this, because having a stronger, more reliable network is worth diamonds to them.

"This might raise some issues for T-Mobile subscribers looking to keep monthly bills down."

After the announcement hit the Web yesterday (March 20), there was much speculation as to where T-Mobile users would go if AT&T failed to meet their needs. Beccue believes T-Mobile users might start looking into Sprint's network, which offers a pre-paid service in addition to its regular service.

"There's been a lot of buzz as to what this will mean for customers and how they will react, but only time will really tell," said Beccue. "I believe that Sprint will be appealing for many T-Mobile users."

More phone choices

It's likely, however, that many T-Mobile users will indeed select AT&T after the agreement is approved, Beccue said.

The two companies will make it easy to switch to AT&T as a part of an effort to grow the parent AT&T's network.

Although T-Mobile won’t be offering AT&T's assortment of devices to its users soon, if the deal passes and current T-Mobile subscribers join AT&T, they will indeed have access to more mobile phones, including the ever-popular Apple iPhone.

Reach TechNewsDaily senior writer Samantha Murphy at smurphy@techmedianetwork.com. Follow her on Twitter @SamMurphy_TMN

© 2012 TechNewsDaily

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