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The players behind the scenes are Deutsche Telekom and Softbank; T-Mobile would likely be put in charge

Bloomberg is reporting that Softbank Corp. (TYO:9984) has secured enough financing to cover a bid for T-Mobile U.S. Inc. (TMUS) in June or July in a move that could shake up the U.S. wireless network race.

I. Sprint, T-Mobile Reinvigorated by Bold 2012 Moves

The roots of the deal lie in T-Mobile U.S.'s current majority owner's desire to sell the brand, and Softbank's desire to expand its American holdings.

Softbank made a name for itself in Japan by its strong marketing, aggressive acquisitions, and dedication to infrastructure improvement.  But faced with a slowly shrinking market in Japan (whose population is expected to shrink in half by around 2100 due to low birth rates) it in Oct. 2012 made a bold move bidding for Sprint Nextel.  After a bidding war with DISH Network Corp. (DISH) it emerged victorious last year and Sprint Corp. (S) was born, with Softbank holding 80 percent of shares and public investors holding the remaining shares.

SoftBank's Son
Softbank and its CEO Masayoshi Son outbid DISH Network to become the majority owner of Sprint last year. [Image Source: Reuters]

The deal has produced a remarkable turnaround at the money-losing Sprint, which before the deal was teetering dangerously close to bankrupcy.  Now it's almost cash-neutral and has stopped its bleed in subscribers.  Sprint is currently in third place in the U.S. market with about 54 million customers.

T-Mobile U.S. was formed over a decade before in 2001, via Deutsche Telekom AG's (ETR:DTE) purchase of Powertel and Voicestream (a successor to the defunct Western Wireless Corp.).  For nearly a decade and a half Deutsche Telekom has managed the brand, which it owns 67 percent in.  And that brand was struggling.

Deutsche Telekom
Deutsche Telekom has owned T-Mobile U.S. since 2001. [Image Source: MobiFrance]

But 2012 proved a pivotal turning point for T-Mobile -- the fourth largest wireless carrier -- much like it did for Sprint.  Deutsche Telekom in Sept. 2012 appointed John J. Legere -- an unorthodox and disruptive CEO -- to head T-Mobile U.S. and in Oct. 2012 announced a bid for MetroPCS.  Together these moves made T-Mobile the fastest growing carrier at the end of 2013.  T-Mobile currently is profitable and has a little over 46 million customers.

But Deutsche Telekom is in the opposite of Softbank's position. It enjoys a strong, but hypercompetitive market back home.  So with T-Mobile U.S. shares riding on epic highs, it wants to sell now and spend its proceeds on financing network expansions to keep it back home in Germany (a market which does not face the population shrinkage concerns as Japan's does).

II. A Bid Expected to Come After All

For a time it seemed unlikely that Softbank (via its proxy, Sprint) would make a bid for T-Mobile.  Antitrust regulators have already made it clear they oppose such a deal as they fear it could limit competition and stall both companies' momentum.  But it now appears that Softbank/Sprint will indeed pursue such an acquisition.

Bloomberg reports that Softbank (via Sprint) will likely make a bid in June or July for its smaller rival.  The decision comes following a meeting Sprint Chief Financial Officer Joe Euteneuer and Treasurer Greg Block had with six top banks to ensure that the deal could receive financing.

Bank of America
Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, and Goldman Sachs are among the U.S. banking financiers of the supposed pending Softbank offer. [Image Source: AP]

No one knows how much the deal will be worth.  T-Mobile currently has a market cap of $24B+ USD, including the jump in shares after news of the strengthening acquisition interest.  T-Mobile U.S. does hold $8.7B USD in net debt, but it also recently received $6B USD in cash and spectrum from AT&T, Inc. (T) following its failed 2011 takeover attempt.  Bloomberg writes:

Deutsche Telekom wants as much cash as possible in the deal, another person said.

The deal could stretch to $40-50B USD -- part of which will likely go to T-Mobile for continued network expansion.  Such a deal would be well north of the $16.6B USD in cash that Softbank gave Sprint Nextel shareholders for its stake (along with an additional $5B USD for network expansion in a deal worth ~$22B USD).  In fact, T-Mobile U.S. could cost Softbank twice what it paid for Sprint Nextel.

Reportedly Sprint met with Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS), Citigroup Inc. (C), JPMorgan Chase & Comp. (JPM), Mizuho Financial Group Inc. (TYO:8411), Bank of America Corp. (BAC), and Deutsche Bank (Deutsche Boerse AG (ETR:DB1)).

III. T-Sprintle: Likely Led by Legere, With More T-Mo Flavor, Less Sprint

The resulting company would a be a behemoth, with 110 million customers, surpassing even Verizon Wireless (a wholly owned subsidiary of Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ)).  Verizon Wireless ended Q1 2014 with 103.3 million customers, while AT&T has around 78 million subscribers in the U.S.

While one cannot discount the risk of both T-Mobile and Sprint losing their newfound momentum amidst a merger, one piece of good news is that it sounds like Softbank is leaning towards putting T-Mobile's leadership more heavily in charge of the merged entity.  It reports:

SoftBank and Deutsche Telekom AG (DTE), which owns about 67 percent of T-Mobile, are still speaking with each other to determine who would run the company, the people said. T-Mobile CEO John Legere is the leading candidate, one of the people said. 
T-Mobile CEO John Legere, would likely head the merged brand. [Image Source: NYT]

That's bad news for Sprint CEO Dan Hesse, but arguably good news for U.S. customers who have rated T-Mobile much higher in brand satisfaction than Sprint in recent quarters.

And that would likely mean that the merged entity might behave more like T-Mobile in terms of strategy, regardless of whether the plan involves merging the brands under one name (Sprint? T-Mobile? T-Sprintle?) or continuing to operate under separate names (similar to the MetroPCS acquisition and merger).

T-Mobile wide
[Image Source: Flickr (top); Getty Images (bottom)]

Softbank is reportedly well aware U.S. antitrust regulators concerns, and is preparing a lengthy defense of the deal.  Given that regulators already shot down AT&T's argument -- effectively that competition might be harmed a little, but not a lot -- Softbank and its CEO Masayoshi Son will likely have to convince regulators that competition would actually improve under the scenario.

Even if approval from U.S. government regulators is won, a deal would likely take until late 2015 -- or even 2016 -- to wrap up given that it would require the approval of shareholders of all four companies (Sprint, Softbank, T-Mobile U.S., and Deutsche Telekom).

Source: Bloomberg

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By Jeffk464 on 4/30/2014 10:25:37 PM , Rating: 3
Why can't all these companies just leave Tmobile alone? The fact that they are the small scrappy underdog is the reason they have become a great value.

By seamonkey79 on 4/30/2014 11:09:40 PM , Rating: 4
Mainly because the people that 'own' T-Mobile don't want it to be left alone.

By hpglow on 5/1/2014 1:50:10 AM , Rating: 2
Massive debt.

By quiksilvr on 5/1/2014 9:44:31 AM , Rating: 2
Your concerns are understandable but I believe you aren't seeing the bigger picture. It appears that this merger will leave the positive aspects of T-Mobile (no-contract, free roaming, fair pricing, etc.) and the bolstered user base of Sprint.

What really helped T-Mobile was the literal billions of dollars it received from AT&T after their botched merger. Without this, there would have been no way T-Mobile could have upgraded their LTE network.

But unfortunately, as amazing as the pricing is, there needs to be a more solid user base in order to continue to provide this. Who knows? Maybe with the user base addition from Sprint, they can bring back Unlimited for $70 rather than $80 (unlikely but one can dream).

By NellyFromMA on 5/1/2014 10:16:42 AM , Rating: 2
Sprint is such an awful company, and T-Mobile has really been looking positive lately.

However, this could be a great way to boost T-Mobile marketshare against ATT and VZW.

I'd personally really like the deal if it left T-Mobile execs in current decision making-positions as they are clearly superior to the Sprint folks.

The difficult part would seemingly be Sprints awful network. IIRC, they are a GSM network like VZW, whereas ATT and T-Mobile are CDMA like the rest of the world. It would not be a small feat to convert those users.

Still, big moved often entail risk. I think its exactly the type of merger to bust up ATT n VZW a bit.

I'd probably even switch from ATT to T-Mobile in support, which is ironic as a couple of weeks ago I was finding it hard to imagine what it would take for me to do so.

By euclidean on 5/1/2014 10:28:52 AM , Rating: 3
If you said 'Previous Sprint Strategy' was awful, I would agree with you...since the Softbank acquisition, things over here have gotten a lot better...

Also, note that Sprint & VZW are CDMA, and AT&T & T-Mobile are GSM - but that's limited to their 3G and older services...

LTE service is compatible amongst the 4 companies (outside of the actual Band they operate on)

By Solandri on 5/3/2014 3:13:54 AM , Rating: 2
CDMA is the dominant tech worldwide. Most 3G data services are CDMA, including 3G on GSM networks.

Verizon and Sprint (and a good chunk of Japan and Korea) also use CDMA for voice. GSM uses TDMA which is just horrible; it wastes a lot of bandwidth (which is why GSM was nearly 2 years behind at rolling out 2G data - they basically added a second radio for CDMA data). Fortunately voice doesn't take much bandwidth, so it doesn't impact their voice performance much.

LTE replaces CDMA for data, and as you point out it's cross-compatible (it uses OFDMA) as long as the radio supports the frequencies the carrier uses. But for backwards compatibility reasons, voice will remain as-is. Probably won't change until voice over data becomes standard.

The main reason to like GSM is the concept of SIM cards - your plan is linked to your SIM card, and you're free to pop it into any phone. If you and a friend want to swap phones for a week to test drive them before your next purchases, you can. LTE also uses the same SIM card so hopefully we'll see that spread to the CDMA voice carriers. Eventually. (e.g. The Nexus 5 has both CDMA and TDMA voice radios, as well as LTE and a SIM card. So you can use the same phone on Sprint, AT&T, and T-Mobiile. Verizon's CDMA frequencies weren't included when they failed to reach a deal with Google/LG.)

By EasyC on 5/1/2014 12:19:57 PM , Rating: 2
Do you honestly think Sprint is just going to leave T-Mobile's policies in place?

Sprint will almost certainly raise the prices back up. Sprint wants contracts, and wants people to pay their prices. If Sprint wanted to be more competitive, they'd lower their prices, not buy the company threatening to kick their ass.

By euclidean on 5/1/2014 1:03:45 PM , Rating: 2
Funny you say that when the prices of T-Mobile & Sprint are much closer than the prices of AT&T & Verizon...

By kingrod98 on 5/4/2014 9:31:51 AM , Rating: 2
if you research you realize T Mobile is eventually we'll be bought by one company or several eventually the prices will stop because the new owners will probably be AT&T and Verizon and can't forget about sprint if sprint is not allowed to beat them to the punch it's just a matter of time but they will be only three major carriers in the United States because T Mobile parent company goal is to get rid of T Mobile even if T Mobile will be sold two more than one company leaving 3 research BAM's

By kingrod98 on 5/4/2014 8:01:32 AM , Rating: 2
T Mobile discounts or only short lived T Mobile cannot continue to constantly keep taking losses without the business falling under reality t Mobile is taking a loss every time they give discounts a company cannot drive forward when constantly taking losses T Mobile was almost bought by AT&T because T Mobile are losing revenue the real world AT&T only goal in buying T Mobile was to use tmobile assets and to continue to keep sprint down because Sprint is the second valued company when it comes down to customers not shareholders if T Mobile is allowed to be merged with Sprint you will see nothing but to budget company's coming together against the monopoly Verizon and AT&T T Mobile and Sprint history speaks for itself to benefit the consumer not shareholders first but the consumer fax: researchSoftbank CEO bought sprint because of the monopoly that's in the United States Verizon and an at&tSoftbank history also speaks for itself Softbank CEO purchased the largest cellular devices and accessories distributing company t all cell phone and accessories provider in the United States and the name of the company britestar distributing company in the United States Softbank purchased Clearwire the largest spectrum holder in the United States in order to give to sprint the leverage day need in order to break the monopoly in United States and benefit the consumer first in the United States shareholders second sprint T Mobile and Softbank has a common goal consumer first research it can easily be verified research stop believing everything you hear research opinions don't matter fax Hello BAM's

By kingrod98 on 5/4/2014 9:59:05 AM , Rating: 2
and because they are a great value is the reason why they shall fall under without capital money truly does make the world go round Softbank CEO vowed before they bought sprint AT&T and Verizon was going down sprint Owens the largest data spectrum because of the purchase of Clearwire in the United States Softbank ceo saw to it sprint Owens the major distributing company to cellular services in the United States britestar Softbank ceo saw to it all the major cell phone distributors in the United States go through britestar to get their devices T Mobile will complete the task making sprint and tmobile the largest cellular provider in the United States don't get it twisted if sprint is not allowed to purchase the majority of shares in T Mobile T Mobile will be sold to multiple companies will have tmobile after the splits and they will be only three major carriers guaranteed and yes we'll only send Softbank in another direction buying smaller companies that will not meet antitrust regulations an at&t and Verizon will be delayed in falling in the meantime you all prices will continue to to escalate research hello

By stm1185 on 4/30/2014 10:17:11 PM , Rating: 1
So sick of those commercials. Everyone involved with calling it Framily and making those ads needs to fired in the merger.

By ol1bit on 5/1/2014 12:07:42 AM , Rating: 2
Agreed, has to be one of the stupidest advertising plans ever!

By Solandri on 5/3/2014 3:33:23 AM , Rating: 2
The fact that you guys know what it is would suggest that it's great advertising.

By ChicoMonster on 5/1/2014 1:02:08 AM , Rating: 1
Stupid name, excellent plan. After my discount I'm paying just under $40.00 per line before taxes. Unlimited everything including 4G data. Pretty hard to beat.

By ChicoMonster on 5/1/2014 1:04:43 AM , Rating: 2
T-mobile has some pretty good deals but they won't finance the full price of a phone unless you have good credit. No problem for some, deal breaker for others.

By Boze on 5/1/2014 6:09:56 AM , Rating: 3
Uh, good? You shouldn't be financing a phone in the first damn place...

You finance a car. You finance a house. You don't finance a smartphone.

By menting on 5/1/2014 11:33:56 AM , Rating: 2 shouldn't be financing anything that loses value that quick. Which means you shouldn't be financing a car....

By Solandri on 5/3/2014 3:32:16 AM , Rating: 2
Actually if you have good credit, you can get those 0% and 0.9% promotional financing deals for a new car. They're usually a two year loan, which puts the monthly payment out of reach of anybody who actually needs a loan (i.e. couldn't buy the car outright for cash).

For rich people, it's basically free money. You can take the cash you would've spent on the car, and instead invest it in something which returns a lot more than 0.9%. The net result being you're earning interest (net) on the amount you've financed. Yes the car loses value, but if you need a car that's an unavoidable loss whether you buy or finance or lease, so that loss drops out of the equation.

It's actually pretty sick the things you can do if other people trust you enough to loan you their money, which is what a good credit rating is. Over on fatwallet, they do something called an App-o-Rama. You tank your good credit score by applying for 2 or 3 dozen of those 0% introductory credit card offers at once. The guys who are pro at this basically end up with $100k-$200k credit card balances at 0% for a year. They dump that money into a CD or stocks/bonds, then pay off the cards in full when the 0% period ends. It's basically $100-$200k in free money for a year. Three years later, the hit from all those credit card applications expires from your credit report, and you can do it again.

By kingrod98 on 5/4/2014 10:33:21 AM , Rating: 2
T Mobile charging full price for the phone $$ has to get the money from somewhere they giving away but it won't be enough.who is Softbank CEO came to United States as a teenager left his whole family with nothing he push him self to go to high school to college in the United States then went back to his country and became a self made billionaire don't get it twisted Japan is his first home he classify United States as his home as well everything he is doing here is because he is an American as well and it's done for the American consumer research BAM's

By lagomorpha on 5/1/2014 8:32:43 AM , Rating: 3
You can get a decent smartphone for under $100. If your credit is so bad you can't get approved for a phone you probably shouldn't be taking out a $650 loan to buy a Galaxy S5 or iPhone 5S...

Who's network is bigger/more robust?
By weilin on 5/1/2014 4:17:02 AM , Rating: 2
I think I could be OK with this merger... I can see how this could benefit me.

For starters, Deutsche Telekom is a bit cash strapped right now, they need money to defend their home turf (Germany) and thus their investment in t-mobile isn't their priority. Softbank has money they're willing to pour into the company; money the company needs to build out infrastructure. The investment from Softbank would allow T-Mobile/Sprint to have the deeper pockets necessary to finally fix their coverage gaps and take on Verizon/AT&T.

If the merger is allowed to happen, I would expect the regulatory group to expect them to develop all their spectrum they're sitting on within two years or the feds should seize the undeveloped bands.

However, I would expect the T-Mobile execs to be in charge. They seem to be moving the industry in the right direction. If it was strictly a money question, it seems like Softbank has plenty to dump into Sprint. The cost of T-Mobile would buy a lot of Sprint towers... However, pouring money into an incompetent management team is the same as flushing it down the toilet... I suspect this takeover is more for T-Mobile execs than the actual equity in the company considering they're essentially will be tossing much of it in the near future (see paragraph below).

One thing that concerns me is the fundamental difference in infrastructure the 2 companies have for pre-4G connectivity. Yes both are rolling out GSM based 4G LTE. But in the meantime, the costs of operating essentially two non-4G networks would be quite a burden and they would want to decommision one of them... The question is, which one? Does anyone know which company's infrastructure is actually more robust right now? I would like GSM to ultimately win out becuase it's the international standard as well as the basis of 4G LTE (also, unlocked Nexus devices!). However, since Sprint is currently the larger of the two companies, theirs should, in theory, be better... You can't mix and match from city to city and there is hardly any (none?) GSM + CDMA SOCs available right now. which one will they standardize on...

As for the name... Sprint Mobile?

RE: Who's network is bigger/more robust?
By VoodooChicken on 5/1/2014 7:47:39 AM , Rating: 2
Sprint's biggest blunder was buying and carrying Nextel. A T-Mobile consolidation would make for another costly and time consuming culling, however, I don't think it would be as bad as shutting down Nextel.

As for names, about SprinT?

By danjw1 on 5/1/2014 9:40:23 AM , Rating: 2
Given how customers feel about the Sprint brand right now, I think just going with T-Mobile would be best.

The big hurdle I see is that Sprints network is CDMA and T-Mobile is GSM. This means that if they merge the brands, they really need to move customers from one technology to another.

By kingrod98 on 5/4/2014 8:59:38 AM , Rating: 2
research sprint and tmobile merger is nothing but up up for the consumer Softbank CEO is the third richest man in Japan Japan is a extremely huge country get the message Softbank intense on taking a lost in order to break the monopoly in the United States that consist of Verizon and AT&T Softbank CEO have the financial backing to do a better job in the United States with breaking a monopoly then he did in Japan fax the cell phone providers in the United States have contracts with britestar distributing company owned by Sprint get the message Softbank is building a fortress around sprint to top it off we as the consumer of all cell phone providers with in the major 4 must have T Mobile another budget company to pull it off n the money hog at&t and Verizon have no other choice but to reduce the price or else lose customers shareholders take a loss not the consumer also Softbank CEO is assisting the smaller carriers in the United States with developing LTE to allow customers who cannot afford postpaid plan to have the same access and everyone else research also in 2012 The FCC and the Department of Justice considered reducing roaming rates for smaller carriers to use the larger carriers network Verizon try to stop this from going through it doesn't matter what cell phone provider you are with even if you or AT&T and Verizon customers we still need this merger for y'all price to go down as well research Hello BAM's

By euclidean on 5/1/2014 10:23:48 AM , Rating: 2
My thought on the network piece....

T-mobile's 4G LTE is great within Cities/Heavily populated areas. Their 3G service is also pretty great.

Sprint's 4G LTE service (where launched, which is quite a few unexpected areas in my region)is expanding in many rural areas along with cities - it's good, but not great. Their 3G service, though, sucks.

As far as Phone service, Sprint has T-Mobile beat hands down outside highly populated areas. In fact, as far as Voice coverage goes, they're almost identical to Verizon.

With that said, I'm not sure which direction it would go. I can say, however, in recent articles regarding Sprint's rollout of Spark (combining of different bands to get Voice-over-LTE, 50mbps+ data, etc.), there may be potential to roll it all together - they do plan on having 100 major markets covered by the end of 2016. This article speculates that such a merger wouldn't be complete until then anyways, so if Spark wraps up early (with the increase in available towers/bandwidth from T-mobile in the LTE space), then the only focus moving forward would be to expand Spark to the rest of Sprint's coverage area (a.k.a 3G Rural areas that T-mobile doesn't have coverage to begin with).

Honestly, the only reason I'm on Sprint today is that T-mobile is the same cost I pay today for less service - I have 4G LTE (~10mbps not T-Mo speeds) and I have coverage in many rural areas that T-mo does not.

If they combined, it would be the best of both worlds...Verizon is way to expensive, but has great coverage/service...AT&T is as expensive as Verizon, but you might as well be on Sprint's network...

By Solandri on 5/3/2014 3:45:57 AM , Rating: 2
One thing that concerns me is the fundamental difference in infrastructure the 2 companies have for pre-4G connectivity. Yes both are rolling out GSM based 4G LTE. But in the meantime, the costs of operating essentially two non-4G networks would be quite a burden and they would want to decommision one of them...

I dunno. The Nexus 5 shows you can put out a combination GSM+CDMA phone at a competitive price point. Just have the phone connect to whichever signal is best, whether it be a Sprint tower or a T-Mobile tower.

As 3G data gets phased out for LTE, the only difference between the two will be voice (CDMA for Sprint, TDMA for T-Mobile). And voice doesn't take much bandwidth so operating both techs for voice on every tower wouldn't seem to be that expensive compared to LTE.

By mxnerd on 5/1/2014 2:51:30 AM , Rating: 2
I love T-mobile.

Don't let this happen!

By SunLord on 5/1/2014 3:31:41 AM , Rating: 2
Eh if they put T-mobile in charge of the combined company I think it would be a very good thing but if the leave Sprints board in charge the company will be a flop.

And here I am switching from Sprint to T-Mobile
By BPB on 5/1/2014 9:40:36 AM , Rating: 2
Here I am, switching from Sprint to T-Mobile, and saving tons of money in the process, only to possibly be back on Sprint. My current Sprint plan is a grandfathered SERO plan, 4 phones with unlimited 4G (including free data roaming) and messaging, and 1600 minutes to share, for around $200 a month. But the service has been painful while they transition, and they won't replace my buggy but new HTC One (has the mic problem which is well known). So I'm switching to T-Mobile for $100 a month, but with much less data. The thing is, it turns out I use very little data since I'm generally at work or home. Even the kids don't use that much data (and my daughter's a 20 year old college student who is a tech nut). The nice thing with T-Mobile is that if somebody like my daughter needs more data it doesn’t cost that much per month, and it’s all no contract. Please, Sprint, don’t screw up T-Mobile! Let T-Mobile run things when it’s all said and done.

By kingrod98 on 5/3/2014 6:52:56 PM , Rating: 2
ok answer this question if t Mobile is so superior to sprint why do T Mobile depends on AT&T network and AT&T is the worst cell phone provider in United States for the last 2 or three years and T Mobile is the second worst explain this sadistic research opinion don't matter facts hello BAM'S

By reddog007 on 5/1/2014 11:48:14 AM , Rating: 2
I'm more interesting on what they are going to do with spectrum.

I'd guess they'd be able to share BRS, and AWS spectrum very quickly while leaving PCS spectrum as legacy to support their individual 3G/2G services. Then refarm over to LTE as needed.

The only problem is then you'd have 110 million users on a single company that shares only a nationwide 5x5MHz on low-frequency (800MHz) spectrum.
Hopefully they both pick up a good bit of 600MHz in the auction.

I don't really see how this merger will really benefit the consumer. They already offer the lowest prices. TMobile is great in the cities, and Sprint is going to get even better while they deploy Spark, and offer better out of city coverage and speeds.

RE: Hmmm...
By euclidean on 5/1/2014 1:07:37 PM , Rating: 2
T-Mobile customers would then actually have service outside their City when traveling anything other than the major interstates & highways...

Sprint customers would actually see blazing fast LTE speeds in Cities (though, if you're in a Spark neighborhood, T-mo LTE speeds aren't competitive...).

I could see a lot of happy customers. Especially since Sprint is the only one out of the companies that always offered an Unlimited Data plan...that, hopefully, is the one policy the merged company keeps from Sprint ;D

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