SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son explicitly called for a deal between SoftBank-owned Sprint (NYSE:S) and T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) in a TV interview, and said combining the No. 3 and 4 wireless carriers would ignite a "massive price war" and more competition in the U.S. market.
In an interview with PBS's Charlie Rose, Son called for the deal in public for the first time. He had previously declined to comment directly on the prospects for a deal between Deutsche Telekom-controlled T-Mobile and Sprint, in which Japan's SoftBank controls an 80 percent stake. Son's comments, released initially on Monday in excerpts of the interview, came ahead of a speech he will give this afternoon at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington.
Regulators have expressed skepticism about such a merger, preferring to keep four national wireless players. Antitrust regulators at the Department of Justice have been particularly vocal in their skepticism, while FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said he would keep an open mind on any deal. However, Wheeler has also voiced support for maintaining the prevailing structure of four Tier 1 carriers. Antitrust regulators just three years ago blocked AT&T's (NYSE:T) proposed takeover of T-Mobile, which has since flourished in the market.
Son made it clear he does not yet have a formal deal in place between Sprint and T-Mobile, yet he seemed undaunted. "We would like to make the deal happen, but there are steps and details that we have to work out," Son said during the interview, according to reports. "We have to give a shot."
Son has wanted to acquire T-Mobile since he bought Sprint, an unnamed person familiar with the matter told the Wall Street Journal.
Son has repeatedly argued that without greater scale, neither Sprint nor any other carrier can effectively compete with Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) and AT&T. He drove that point home in the interview and made clear that if regulators at the FCC and Department of Justice were to bless a Sprint/T-Mobile deal he would usher in more competition on pricing. He also said he would be willing to sacrifice profitability to attract subscribers and increase market share.
"We need a certain scale, but once we have enough scale to have a level fight, OK," Son said during the interview. "It's a three-heavyweight fight. If I can have a real fight, I go in more massive price war, a technology war."
"I would like to have the real fight, OK? Not the pseudo fight, the real fight," Son added.
Reports have indicated that Son will not directly call for consolidation in his speech today. Instead, he will try to reframe the debate over U.S. wireless consolidation by arguing the benefits of an advanced wireless network that could widely deliver ultra-fast broadband access and improve education and mobile commerce.
SoftBank is now focused on convincing all interested parties of the merits of a merger, an unnamed senior company executive told Reuters, adding that any moves toward pushing for a deal were now on hold.
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)
- see this Bloomberg article
- see this Reuters article
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