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AT&T set to buy Leap Wireless for $1.19b

LOS ANGELES — AT&T Inc. said Friday that it has agreed to acquire Leap Wireless International Inc., the prepaid cellphone carrier that operates under the Cricket brand, for about $1.19 billion in cash or $15 a share.

The purchase gives the nation’s number two cellphone carrier a leg up in serving customers who prefer not to have lengthy contracts. Leap’s Cricket service has 5 million subscribers. The deal also gives AT&T the right to use Leap’s unused airwaves — also known as spectrum — to expand its network.

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Spectrum is the lifeblood of the wireless industry and the fight to grab more of it has spurred a recent wave of consolidation. In April, T-Mobile completed its acquisition of prepaid carrier MetroPCS. The company plans to shut down the MetroPCS network in two years, so it can use the airwaves to improve coverage and data speeds.

AT&T plans to keep the Cricket brand name, but provide Cricket customers with access to AT&T’s ‘‘4G LTE’’ network.

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