Sprint, ATN, Nokia executives address looming consolidation, albeit obliquely

CCA 2017 panel discussion
Sprint's Guenther Ottendorfer, third from right, offered comments on possible consolidation in the telecom industry.

FORT WORTH, Texas—Executives from Sprint, Nokia, ATN and Huawei acknowledged continued and heated speculation that the telecom industry is headed toward a bout of consolidation—headlined by a merger between Sprint and T-Mobile that is looking increasingly imminent—but none of the executives offered any concrete predictions or opinions on the situation.

Comments from Guenther Ottendorfer, Sprint’s chief operating officer for technology, were perhaps those that carried the most weight, considering the operator canceled its quarterly conference call with analysts earlier this week. That action, coupled with a similar move by T-Mobile, likely stemmed from ongoing and serious merger negotiations.

However, Ottendorfer did not offer much beyond what CEO Marcelo Claure has said in previous comments on the topic of consolidation. Ottendorfer said that Sprint’s results showed improvements in a number of financial metrics, and “that also gives us the opportunity to explore our opportunities.”

Sprint added 279,000 postpaid net phone customers during its latest quarter. The operator’s shares rose after it posted a net loss of $48 million, or 1 cent per share, a marked improvement from the $142 million loss it reported during the same period a year ago.

Ottendorfer made his comments here during a panel discussion at the CCA’s annual trade show. Other executives on the panel also chimed in on the topic of consolidation, without offering any specific predictions.

Ken Borner, VP of engineering and network operations for regional wireless and wireline operator ATN International, said that a merger between Sprint and T-Mobile would likely cut into ATN’s roaming revenues by reducing the number of its roaming partners. However, he said a merger would likely be good for consumers because a merged Sprint and T-Mobile would have significant spectrum resources.

“Is four much different than three? I don’t know. I’m not sure how much it would affect [wireless service] pricing,” Borner said. “You can look at it from different perspectives.”

“When you look at consolidation, … a lot of it is done around a particular business need,” explained Chris Stark, chief strategy and business development officer for Nokia’s North American business. Stark said that a combined Sprint and T-Mobile would have more resources to compete against market heavyweights AT&T and Verizon.

Finally, George Reed, SVP of solutions and marketing for Huawei Technologies USA, looked beyond a Sprint and T-Mobile merger to the possibility of matchups between wireless and wireline operators. He said that the combination of wireless technology and fiber resources is “really interesting” and could create “really interesting dynamics.”