Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends. I’ve been covering Sprint’s business dealings for about six years here on this blog. Back then they were engaged in a confusing dance. The result of that whole mess was Sprint was bought by Japanese electronics firm Softbank, who also retained Sprint’s assets from a company called Clearwire. Back then, DISH had also stepped in and tried to buy Clearwire, then Sprint itself. It was a constant source of distraction to this newly revitalized blog.
Everything old is new again
The story never really went away. As early as 2014, Sprint was said to be in talks with T-Mobile to merge, or be bought, or something. The deal nearly happened in 2017, but fell apart at the last minute. Then, in April of last year, the companies announced they would merge… again. Finally, the deal seems to be imminent, with surprising help from DISH, who’s opposed the deal in the past.
I’ve talked before about how I don’t think these two second-rate players could combine to make a first-rate player. Because cell technology moves so fast, it would only take about three years to merge their technologies, but it’s going to be a painful move. The last time Sprint tried to absorb another cell company — Nextel — they lost more subscribers than they’d ever gained when they moved away from Nextel’s ancient technology. I expect the same when the new S-Mobile (or whatever they’re gonna call it) abandons all the rest of Sprint’s obsolete tech.
How is DISH involved?
The FCC set down a bunch of requirements in order for the merger to move forward. Certain assets owned by Sprint, including some largely unused wireless spectrum and the Boost Mobile prepaid brand, needed to be sold off. That was clearly fine with Sprint. That company has spent 20 years cobbling together a bunch of off-kilter tech that’s better forgotten. Plus, T-Mobile already has a successful prepaid brand with Metro (formerly MetroPCS.)
On the other hand, DISH has been looking forward to entering the wireless space for years. Metro gives them a completely formed cell company to work with. As for Sprint’s wireless spectrum, it joins other licenses that DISH has. The company has pledged to do something really innovative and disruptive with the licenses it has. More licenses will probably make this come about faster.
How it will look (I think)
I think they’ll call the new company Sprint. The folks involved will think that Sprint is a stronger brand and they’ll keep using it. Maybe they’ll use T-Mobile for the prepaid brand now known as Metro. Maybe they’ll just keep the rights to the name and lose the rest.
On the other hand, I think that the entire company will finally move to GSM technology. They’ll also move to a more conventional plan for 5G. All of the bonkers little tech that Sprint has used in the past will finally disappear.
Along the way they’ll keep shedding customers. Remember that current T-Mobile customers had a choice and didn’t choose Sprint. At the same time some Sprint customers will leave because of the inevitable customer service mess and because they’ll have to get new phones at some point.
If this actually goes through this year, I’d expect that by 2023, the new company will finally stabilize at a size not much larger than the current Sprint is today. This means the whole mess will have been for nothing.
Who wins and who loses
Believe it or not the big winners here are DISH, Verizon, and AT&T. DISH gets to jumpstart its slow-simmering wireless program. Verizon and AT&T will both benefit from former Sprint users who just won’t want the chaos that comes from yet another shakeup. They’ll flock to a stable company that can offer them better service and bundling.
It’s going to be interesting. I compare this whole mess to the X-Men movie franchise. It was never part of the “mainstream” Marvel universe and yet they kept making movies. Two of them (give or take) were actually good but they just kept making them. Slowly, people stopped showing up and now here we are with the sputtering end of the franchise, the last bit of its independent existence, which people have just despised.
Yep, just despised. Honestly that describes this whole Sprint mess to a “T.” Pun… intended.