T-Mobile CEO Says Dish Deal Puts AT&T, Verizon on Notice
The three-way deal announced by T-Mobile, Sprint, and Dish on Friday was a catalyst moment that will completely change the wireless landscape, according to T-Mobile CEO John Legere.
“With its acquisition of Boost Mobile, and the mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) agreement we put in place… Dish has a real significant opportunity to be a very credible disruptive fourth wireless carrier, and that certainly is something that I’m sure AT&T and Verizon should keep an eye on,” Legere said during his company’s 2019 second-quarter earnings conference call.
The triumvirate made international headlines on Friday with the announcement of a three-way deal that simultaneously cleared the way for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to approve a long-awaited merger between T-Mobile and Sprint, and turned Dish into the fourth-largest wireless carrier in the United States. Together, these moves could also accelerate the U.S. wireless industry into the age of 5G.
T-Mobile reached agreements with Dish to divest all of Sprint’s prepaid businesses, including Boost Mobile, Virgin Mobile, and Sprint-branded prepaid customers, as well as Sprint’s 800-megahertz spectrum licenses after a three-year period for $5 billion. When the divestiture closes, the new T-Mobile that emerges will enter into commercial arrangements that will provide Dish wireless customers access to the new T-Mobile network for seven years. This is important for Dish, as it will take at least several years to build out its own service.
“We are going to keep Sprint’s entire 2.5 gigahertz and PCS spectrum, which is so important for fully realizing the 5G efficiencies promised by the merger,” said Legere. “Dish will also have an option to take on leases for certain cell sites and retail locations that are decommissioned by the new T-Mobile, and both parties agreed to discuss how we would get access to some or all of their 600-spectrum to use on our T-Mobile network.”
T-Mobile President and COO Mike Sievert confirmed that part of the carrier’s arrangement with Dish has new requirements placed on them to, “build out against the spectrum by the FCC and the DOJ. They’re a party to this consent decree. And I think that’s really great news for consumers that they’re going to get after building out a network using all that spectrum. That entire arrangement was and is contingent upon this announcement that was made today,” he said during the T-Mobile earnings call.
Legere added, “One of the ways I look at this is, if you look at the full utilization of the 2.5 gigahertz that we’re acquiring from Sprint, as well as the unused spectrum of Dish, this is a great day for American networks. It’d be about 150 megahertz at least of spectrum that will now be put to use that, before these sets of agreements, were not going to be put to use. And certainly, Dish’s commitments, which have penalties associated with them, are a big part of it.”
Analysts have mixed views on Dish’s ability to build a competitive wireless service.
New Street Research Analyst Jonathan Chaplin argued that Dish’s network-building costs could be lower than competitors because, unlike competitors, it is only building one network. “This single network will be built from the beginning with 5G, the new wireless standard just beginning to roll out,” said Chaplin. “This means Dish’s network will be virtual and can save money on the costs of maintaining physical wireless towers. Ultimately, Dish’s cost per unit of data would be 75 percent lower than Verizon’s and 55 percent lower than AT&T and T-Mobile’s.”
Sprint and T-Mobile are owned by SoftBank and Deutsche Telekom, which have been hoping that a merger that will provide much-needed new growth opportunities for the wireless industry, which Vox Recode’s Peter Kafka said most consumers view as just, “a commodity. With some exceptions, the big carriers all deliver the same basic service, which means they have to compete on price, or by throwing in freebies like Netflix subscriptions, which T-Mobile has done,” wrote Kafka.
MoffettNathanson analyst Craig Moffett said that he has evaluated Dish entirely on its spectrum assets and the potential for another company to buy those assets, considering that its broadcast business is continuously shrinking and losing subscribers. “The idea that Dish will be able or willing to build its own effective wireless business will require many billions of dollars to get off the ground and even more to maintain,” Moffett said in a report released following the announcement.
He referred to Verizon’s $15 billion in annual maintenance expenses for its own network. “The idea that Dish might spend $10 billion, which is their own estimate from previous conference calls, and then somehow be finished is not credible. We’ve warned for at least five years that if and when Dish’s spectrum holdings ever come to be viewed as an operating asset rather than an asset held for sale, well… look out below,” Moffett said.
Moffett got into a testy exchange with Legere during the earnings conference call when he asked the T-Mobile CEO to explain the involvement of the DOJ in approving (and possibly leaking) the deal.
“Obviously, for the entire time that we’ve been working with the DOJ, the staff has been totally involved in every piece of what we’ve done. And ultimately, how they get to a decision in the DOJ is very clear. Ultimately, the staff gives tremendous amounts of input, and then the antitrust head of the DOJ makes a decision based upon all those attributes,” said Legere. “I would also say that this has to be the most leaked-about deal ever in the history of mankind. And, since I was sitting in the DOJ so many of the days where the leaks came right out of the DOJ, I would tell you, if you are a baseball hitter and you were hitting the average of how right these rumors were, you would clearly be down with team TiVo and not playing in the major leagues. People were clutching at straws, and it was clear that most of the time, the rumors were coming out of the DOJ. They weren’t. They were coming out of other parties that were trying to influence the process and cause unrest.”