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AT&T eyes smaller spectrum acquisitions

AT&T likely became gun-shy after the T-Mobile deal collapsed. The company remains mum on Verizon's spectrum.

Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of mobility at AT&T, speaking at Mobile World Congress.
Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of mobility at AT&T, speaking at Mobile World Congress. De la Vega has been consistent in his opinion that AT&T needs more spectrum. Stephen Shankland/CNET

Don't expect AT&T to strike any big deals in the near future.

AT&T's wireless chief, Ralph de la Vega, said the company will continue to seek out smaller deals, as it looks to shore up its spectrum position.

"We're looking for small acquisitions and will continue to look for more, since we don't see data growth slowing," de la Vega said during a conference call with investors today.

AT&T likely became reluctant to pursue another big deal, after regulators threw up roadblock after roadblock in front of its planned acquisition of T-Mobile. During the previous quarterly conference call, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson made a rare appearance to blast the Federal Communications Commission for tanking the deal. Today, de la Vega and Chief Financial Officer John Stephens were more measured in their comments about pursuing spectrum.

Stephens noted that 10 smaller deals closed in the first quarter, while four more are still going through approvals with the FCC.

One potential deal on which de la Vega wouldn't comment was a potential one with Verizon Wireless. Verizon has offered to put up some of its 700-megahertz spectrum for sale as a way to ease the approval of a separate deal in which it gets a larger block of spectrum from the cable companies. The 700MHz spectrum would fit nicely with AT&T on paper, though critics have said it may not actually work so well in practice.

Stephens said the company is also urging the FCC to open up spectrum for purchase.

So while those megadeals may not be in the works, AT&T is still on the hunt.