LOS ANGELES—The former head of network operations at MetroPCS, the prepaid company that was acquired by T-Mobile in 2013, says he has all the confidence in the world that the combination of Sprint and T-Mobile will be successful based on his experience with the MetroPCS deal.
Ed Chao was senior vice president of Technology, Strategy and Development at T-Mobile for a year before moving on to other endeavors. Before that, he was senior vice president of Corporate Engineering & Network Operations at MetroPCS. Prior to that gig, he was in the vendor space at Lucent Technologies Bell Labs and Nortel Networks.
Chao, who spoke with FierceWirelessTech on the sidelines of Mobile World Congress Americas 2018 (MWCA18), is now the CEO of PoLTE, a startup that is pitching its Cloud Location over Cellular (C-LoC) technology as the most accurate cellular-based location technology available today.
Chao addressed at a high level his experience with the T-Mobile team, which is today largely the same as it was five years ago. “It was an amazing experience for us,” Chao said. “Strategically, we were a great fit.”
T-Mobile CEO John Legere created a culture that was “very aligned with where we were heading in the future,” and he sees similarities with how T-Mobile plans to disrupt the TV space with its acquisition of Layer3. Legere has said T-Mobile acquired Layer3 to build TV for the mobile age (PDF) and the 5G era, and to take the fight to Big Cable and Satellite TV on behalf of customers everywhere.
Chao said when the MetroPCS deal was in play, Legere went out and talked to people in the sales channel, which is key when you’re conducting a transaction of this nature. People are worried about their jobs—and the whole transaction was a chance to take Metro and T-Mobile to a whole new level.
“I think he’s got the capability to do it again. It’s just what he does and it’s now baked into the DNA of the company,” he said. The idea is to out-hustle the competition, which Legere calls “Dumb and Dumber” when referring to Verizon and AT&T. As a no-contract operator, MetroPCS was nimble and able to pivot and change rapidly because it didn’t have to worry about two-year contracts.
“Just from my own personal experience, they’ve got a track record that is definitely a positive.”
Chao’s comments are timely given that not all mergers result in a successful combination of cultures—Sprint’s acquisition of Nextel Communications is one example—and T-Mobile executives have said (PDF) the same process used in the MetroPCS acquisition would be used here.
The National Wireless Independent Dealer Association (NWIDA) told FierceWirelessTech that it is not opposed to the proposed merger, but it wants to hear from whomever ends up with the prepaid brands that they are going to maintain the independent dealer channel. The fear is that the combined entity will look to reduce costs and slash dealers because a Boost store happens to be located across the street from a MetroPCS store.
“We want a solid commitment that no matter what happens with the merger, the owners of the Boost Mobile and MetroPCS brands will keep and continue to utilize the indirect dealer channel, to at least the level they have been to date,” said NWIDA President Adam Wolf in a statement.
According to NWIDA, there are roughly 8,000 independently owned Boost Mobile retail stores (Boost is a prepaid brand of Sprint) and 11,000 MetroPCS stores.
According to T-Mobile, the Sprint transition will involve more markets, but the MetroPCS transaction involved some markets that were more challenging than those involved in the Sprint deal due to the large concentration of customers in certain MetroPCS markets (higher than Sprint’s) and larger number of handsets that needed to be replaced.
T-Mobile executives have stressed with FCC officials that prepaid and postpaid customers alike will benefit from the combined entity’s price strategy as well as from an improved New T-Mobile network. The T-Mobile executives also promised that the New T-Mobile will retain T-Mobile’s and Sprint’s current prepaid brands.
Now at PoLTE, Chao is busy navigating a complex ecosystem involving chipset suppliers and systems integrators. PoLTE, which uses signals from existing LTE networks and supports all the cellular variants—including LTE Cat-1, LTE-M and NB-IoT—is leveraging the cloud to allow for a larger platform and better visibility to provide the best accuracy possible.
PoLTE is now integrated with Sequans and Riot Micro, and it’s in conversations with every major chipset company, although Chao declined to name names due to confidentiality requirements. The hope is to get its first revenue by the end of this year or early next year, he said.
Story updated Sept. 20 to correct and clarify NWIDA's position on the merger.