Mobile, Sprint CEOs Turn From Bitter Rivals to Kindred Spirits

Claure stated that now Verizon and AT&T have four times more business and government customers than Sprint and T-Mobile have combined.

Pro forma net leverage on the merger is expected to be around 2.9 times, with rapid deleveraging to less than 2.0 times in three to four years. That's 46% more than the combined companies have spent in the past three years, a press release detailing the merger explains.

Some analysts have signaled that mergers in the wireless business will lead to "market fix", which is to say that consolidation in the industry will cool the motivation for carriers to undercut one another on rates and instead benefit investors with higher profits.

Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure, who will sit on the board of the new company said: "5G is coming, and what happens in the first few years of a new technology is crucial". That said, there's room for debate about consolidation and the degree to one type of combination would be more detrimental to consumers than another. A spokesperson for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) declined to comment, but previous attempts have been viewed with suspicion by regulators, especially as this would reduce the major wireless players in the USA from four to three.

U.S. wireless operators Sprint and T-Mobile will form a new company and push development of a super-fast 5G network, the heads of both firms said Sunday. The companies already promise $6 billion in "run-rate cost synergies", and while much of it will be achieved by scaling upkeep-heavy projects, the people maintaining those projects will have to find new jobs, either within or without the combined entity. New T-Mobile's network will inevitably be better than it is today, but T-Mobile has outranked Verizon, AT&T and, indeed, Sprint, in network quality for a year, and has been relentlessly absconding with its competitors' customers for half a decade. T-Mobile parent Deutsche Telekom will own 42% of the combined company and control 69% of its voting rights.

Japan's SoftBank Group, which controls Sprint, would own 27 percent of the merged firm and have four board seats. The carriers said they hoped the deal would be completed by July 2019.

Investors have been anticipating a deal like this for some time.

The two companies also contend that the wireless business is changing, with new competitors like Comcast finding ways to enter the mobile sector. But the companies say they expect to get the OK of agencies including the FCC and the Department of Justice.

National carriers had not been able to get a deal through under President Barack Obama. There's also the time when AT&T tried to snap up T-Mobile in 2011 and was denied because the government thought it would make the market less competitive. The two companies had reportedly resumed talks earlier this month.

"The best way to describe 5G is what color TV did to black and white TV", Claure says. Sprint has lost billions of dollars and millions of subscribers, while taking on debt, since SoftBank took it over.

Consumers will be the losers if T-Mobile and Sprint are allowed to merge, said Gigi Sohn, a fellow at the Open Society Foundations and former aide for the Federal Communications Commission.

The second round of talks between Sprint and T-Mobile ended in November over valuation disagreements. In that instance, AT&T is pursuing vertical integration by acquiring a content owner, rather than a rival cable or telecoms company.

  • Arturo Norris