T-Mobile/Sprint merger finds a new enemy in mysterious lobby group

A new non-profit organization called ‘Protect America’s Wireless’ has emerged, seemingly with the sole objective of hurling spanners at the T-Mobile US and Sprint merger.

Details on the group are relatively thin at the moment, it was only founded last month, though a press call introducing the group and its mission statement on the website both seem to give the same message; the T-Mobile US and Sprint merger will be bad for the national security of the US.

“We must protect our networks from foreign spying,” the team announces on the websites homepage. “Our greatest concern is the pending Sprint T-Mobile merger, which could give countries like Saudi Arabia, China, Germany, and Japan direct access to our networks through the use of foreign-made networking equipment and billions of foreign money. We call on President Trump, Congress, and the FCC to protect American national security by denying these foreign interests access to America’s wireless communications.”

On the press call, David Wade, Founder of Greenlight Strategies, suggested a merger of the two telcos would open up the US to a Chinese ecosystem, while also suggesting any business working closely with Chinese vendors would effectively handover data to the Chinese government. While it is true Sprint owner Softbank has collaborated closely with Huawei and ZTE in the 5G R&D journey, this seems to be taking the conspiracy theory up another level. Deutsche Telekom, parent company of T-Mobile US, also has ties to Chinese vendors, but there aren’t many telcos who don’t.

The theory here is a merger between the two telcos would be bad for national security, effectively handing China a key to the backdoor. There have certainly been objections from a competition perspective, but this is the first we’ve seen with this angle. It’s difficult not to be suspicious about who the puppet master actually is.

Interestingly enough, the group has declined to discuss where funding is emerging from. As a 501c4 non-profit, the team do not have to disclose funding or ownership details, though they are permitted to attempt to influence politics as long as it isn’t their main area of focus. While the groups attempt to tackle US security is a thinly veiled attempt to demonstrate ‘social welfare’, as long as the group isn’t spending more than half of its funds on political-related activities, it can continue to operate half-hidden by shadows.

Finding out who is funding this organization is key to figure out what the angle is and whether this is yet another example of propaganda, though it is not necessarily a simple task. 501c4 non-profits have to complete a Form 990 for the IRS, on which any donations above $5,000 have to be disclosed. Unfortunately, due to the efficiency of the IRS, there is usually a 12-18 month lag on this information being made publicly available.

Until the influencers and donors of this group have been identified, this could be a very dangerous source of misinformation. Statements being made might very well be true, but without transparency it would be safe to be suspicious.

New York wades in to the T-Mobile/Sprint debate

New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood could prove to be another hurdle for T-Mobile and Sprint to overcome in their headache-inducing merger.

The problem for the pair is there seem to be a lot more objections surrounding the tie-up than there has been support. After T-Mobile CEO John Legere seemingly got little response from his appeal to MVNOs to support the transaction, the wild-eyed leader has opened up to opinions from staff; a dangerous move considering some would certainly be under threat of redundancy.

Perhaps what the duo didn’t need are objections from the New York Attorney General Office over fears the consumer might get screwed. According to the New York Post, the objection is relatively simple. T-Mobile runs a prepaid service called MetroPCS, while Sprint has Boost and Virgin Mobile. Bringing all three into the same business could lead to one or more being scrapped, reducing competition. Secondly, all three are incredibly aggressive on pricing, but again, bringing all three into the same business could end this trend of undercutting, and an increase in price. The New Yorkers are concerned tariffs could become too expensive for some.

While objections from a few lawyers might not be the worst thing in the world for T-Mobile and Sprint, it seems there is a queue forming. In fact, the FCC released a notice last week which stated the Attorney General Offices of Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Mississippi, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia have all requested information to assist their own investigations into the merger. The lawyers are lurking, and the more who gather around the fire, the less pleasing the situation appears for T-Mobile and Sprint.

This of course might mean nothing. All major parties in the US are perfectly entitled to do their own due diligence surrounding the deal as transitioning from a market with four major telcos down to three is a massive move. Considering there will be regions across the country where this transaction effectively creates a communications monopoly, every chance to scrutinise the deal should be taken.

As it stands, the self-appointed shot-clock on approving the deal at the FCC is on hold. This again is simply down to the magnitude and the potentially significant consequences of the deal, and should not be surprising at all, but the longer it stands still, we suspect the more nervous executives will become. Mergers of this nature have already been shot down in the US, and this deal does seem to be hanging in the balance.

FCC drafts in external opinion to figure out the T-Mobile-Sprint conundrum

Perhaps realising the gravity of the situation, the FCC has drafted in outside help to assess the impact of the T-Mobile-Sprint merger on the US economy.

David Sibley will help the team as an outside consultant reporting into David Lawrence, who is leading the merger taskforce. This should not be seen as an unusual move from the FCC, though perhaps such external opinions should have been brought in earlier considering the impact this merger will have on the telco landscape and competition.

“We are fortunate that Professor Sibley is bringing his considerable economic experience and expertise to bear in this review,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “Rigorous economic analysis plays an important role in all of the Commission’s work and will be essential to a thorough investigation into whether approval of this transaction would be in the public interest.”

This is the big question. The merger will bring the number of national telcos down from four to three, but is this a good or bad move. There are arguments on both sides.

The bad side of the argument is a simple one. Removing one of the major telcos from the ecosystem will reduce competition and hurt the consumer through higher pricing due to a lack of choice. This is not a complicated point to make and a genuine concern, especially in a country like the US which where telcos do not operate everywhere. The risk of monopolies or duopolies in certain areas increases.

On the positive side, while the number of massive telcos decreases, competition increases as the merged entity would offer a more valid threat to AT&T and Verizon through the combined scale. T-Mobile US CEO John Legere often refers to AT&T and Verizon as the duopoly, and while this is an exaggeration, they are miles ahead of T-Mobile and Sprint in third and fourth place. T-Mobile and Sprint are not at the right scale to compete with the leaders individually, but together the merged organization would offer greater scale. The theory here is reducing competitors would make the market more competitive, therefore better for the consumer.

This is the conundrum which the FCC needs to decide on. Evidence and experts will be aplenty on both sides of the argument, though Sibley certainly adds some expertise to the team.

Sibley is currently the John Michael Stuart Centennial Professor of Economics at the University of Texas at Austin. Prior this role, Sibley worked Head of the Economics Research Group at Bell Communications Research, as well as the Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Economic Analysis in the Antitrust Division of the US Department of Justice. He also represented the US in OECD discussions.

As it stands, the merger shot clock is currently on pause, with the FCC deciding it does not want to be rushed. The approval or rejection of mergers and acquisitions are targeted to be completed within a 180-day window, though the FCC is offered the luxury of taking longer if it is a particularly complicated case. This is proving to be one, with the FCC requesting input from competitors of the pair recently, most notably from players outside the mobile ecosystem, suggesting it is investigating the impact on such segments as broadband.

Sprint asks under-threat employees to support redundancies

In a move which perhaps indicates the Sprint/T-Mobile team is starting to get nervous, Sprint CEO Michel Combes is rousing employee support for the very merger which could potentially make them redundant.

On Friday 5 October, Combes is inviting as many employees as possible to a special edition Town Hall which will feature John Legere and Mike Sievert, who will take over as CEO and COO of the combined company should the merger be given the go-ahead. The attendees will be able to ask questions and air their grievances, with perhaps a couple of brave souls condemning the merger due to the number of jobs it will sacrifice to the gods of profit making.

“Speaking of, it was five months ago when Sprint and T-Mobile announced our intentions to merge,” said Combes in the email, which was later filed with the SEC. “Since then, you’ve heard from me and Marcelo – along with much commentary in the media – about why this is such a good deal. Together we can build the best network across the U.S., including rural areas – and establish global leadership in 5G; offer unprecedented products and services at lower prices for consumers and businesses; and create thousands of jobs.”

How many jobs accountant Combes and his psychotic-eyed colleagues can create is questionable, though what is almost certain is redundancies. There will be cross-over when it comes to internal service departments (such as HR and IT) but the majority will most likely come from the retail side of the business, those in the field interacting with customers. In many cities across the US there will be areas which both a T-Mobile and Sprint presence; these will have to be rationalised.

But perhaps this is where Combes is playing his masterstroke. Those who can attend the meeting will be those who work at the HQ in Kansas, these people are less likely to be at risk from redundancies. Combes can have photographers and camera men capturing the happy faces at the event, while the people who are genuinely under threat can’t afford to fly out to Kansas with a weeks’ notice, or have work in the retail stores all around the country. Combes is essentially herding all the happy people together, while the ones who actually have something to object about are left in the cold, voiceless.

Perhaps Combes should be congratulated on his ability to present the concept of democracy while simultaneously silencing any objections through absence.

Maybe this is an indication the team aren’t getting the support they believe is necessary to force the hand of watchdogs approving the deal? The FCC has hit pause on the 180-day shot clock to approve the deal, not necessarily a good sign, industry groups have slammed the merger, customers offered a mixed-bag of feedback and as far as we can tell, Legere’s plea for support from the MVNOs of the US only brought about one proclamation. Asking employees for their approval is certainly risky, there is as much an opportunity for negative feedback as there is for the managers to be strong-armed into shallow, PR-riddled statements.

Despite seeing a few nerves between the lines, the team has hired an integration team, T-Mobile hired Sunit Patel to lead their merger and integration strategy while Kevin Crull leads efforts at Sprint. Vonya McCann and the Government Affairs team are working hard in the lobby front in Washington, while numerous executives from T-Mobile, Softbank and Sprint will be lending their weight to the effort.

Guessing which way the FCC is going to lean on this deal is almost 50/50 according to many of the people which we have spoken to, but with this move perhaps the mood in the merger camp isn’t as positive as some would let on.

FCC says new material means it needs more time to assess TMUS/Sprint merger

The US Federal Communications Commissions has indefinitely extended the amount of time it will take to sign off the country’s operator mega-merger.

Referring to an ‘informal shot clock’ of 180 days in which to assess the pros and cons of T-Mobile US and Sprint permanently hooking up, the FCC announced in a letter that it is being paused. The only stated reason is the submission of new material from TMUS that significantly alters the criteria by which the FCC will make its assessment, thus requiring more time.

“Today we are pausing the Commission’s informal 180-day transaction shot clock in this proceeding,” opens the letter. “Additional time is necessary to allow for thorough staff and third-party review of newly submitted and anticipated modeling relied on by the Applicants.

“Each of three separate developments require more time. First, on September 5, 2018, the Applicants submitted a substantially revised network engineering model… The newly-provided network engineering model is significantly larger and more complex than the engineering submissions already in the record.

“Further, in an August 29, 2018 exparte meeting, T-Mobile executives Mike Sievert and Peter Ewens described T-Mobile’s reliance on a business model, titled Build 9,’ which apparently provides the financial basis for the projected new network buildout. The Commission did not receive Build 9, and third parties did not have access to it, until September 5. Build 9 therefore requires further review.

“Finally, T-Mobile recently disclosed that it intends to submit additional economic modeling in support of the Applications, beyond that strictly responsive to the various economic analyses in the Petitions to Deny. This new economic modeling will also require additional time for review.”

So, in essence, TMUS recently decided to offer up a bunch more material in support of the merger and the FCC needs more time to review it. Seems fair enough. “The clock will remain stopped until the Applicants have completed the record on which they intend to rely and a reasonable period of time has passed for staff and third-party review,” concludes the letter. How long that reasonable period of time will be is unclear.

AT&T and Verizon compete for yet more 5G ‘firsts’

US carriers AT&T and Verizon have completed what they both claim to be the world’s first data transfer to a smartphone form factor device over mmWave 5G live networks.

If we put together all the 5G ‘firsts’ claimed by the industry players it would make a long read, especially if we included cases where similar firsts have been claimed by different companies. In this most recent case, both AT&T and Verizon called themselves the world’s first to successfully transfer data over live 5G networks to purpose-built mobile devices, in Texas and Minnesota respectively.

Temporally, AT&T might have stolen a step ahead of its competitor. The AT&T test took place “over the weekend”, while news coming out of Verizon on Monday declared the success happened yesterday, but they were essentially the same kind of tests. Probably the most intriguing part of the story is that both carriers used Qualcomm’s terminals on networks supplied by Ericsson.

Even the technical details disclosed look very similar. Both tests were using smartphone form factor test devices from Qualcomm integrating the latter’s Snapdragon X50 5G modem and RF subsystem (see the picture), both were going through Ericsson 5G-NR capable radios connected to 3x virtual core networks.

These announcements followed hot on the heels of a couple of other 5G firsts in the last few days: last week Verizon and Nokia claimed to have completed the first over-the-air data transmission on a commercial 5G NR network in Washington DC, though the receiving end was not exactly a smartphone-like device. On Monday Nokia announced its demo with Sprint to conduct the first (in the US though) 5G NR connection over Massive MIMO.

Ericsson and Qualcomm claimed to have completed the first 5G NR ‘call’ to a smartphone-like device (which was pretty similar to the ones used in the AT&T and Verizon tests). That announcement itself came a couple of days after Ericsson announced another similar test with Intel. These two slightly earlier tests were conducted in lab environment while the latest AT&T and Verizon cases were done over live networks, or as AT&T emphatically stressed, “Not a lab. Not preproduction hardware. Not emulators.”

We understand the marketing departments of these companies must be busy generating as big a buzz as possible in the run-up to the Mobile World Congress America (starting tomorrow). Meanwhile we cannot discount that tests and announcements (and claims) like these do show the wider world 5G potentials when the commercial networks roll out in the coming months and years, though at the moment all these firsts still do not mean anything for consumers as no 5G terminals are available yet.

Another interesting angle to look at these tests is how active the US carriers are in pushing ahead 5G on mmWave, which contrast with how slow the European operators and regulators are moving. The European Commission launched a project to look into the feasibility of using mmWave for 5G deployment in the EU. A reporting session was organised in Brussels in June this year. The views were divided, and conclusions elusive. The main doubt from the industry looked to be the lack of compelling business case and the wrangling between the telecom industry and the satellite industry on the utilisation of the lower mmWave spectrum, hence the lack of contiguous bands for 5G buildout.

It may be a worthy reminder that we can never tell with full confidence what new technologies can do. Andre Fuetsch, AT&T Communications’ CTO was bang on when he said “… yet to be discovered experiences will grow up on tomorrow’s 5G networks. Much like 4G introduced the world to the gig economy, mobile 5G will jumpstart the next wave of unforeseen innovation.”

Ericsson upgrades Radio System, partners with Juniper on backhaul and buys CENX

Ahead of MWC Americas Ericsson has embarked on a frenzy of announcements around its core product offering.

The headline news is a significant upgrade to the Ericsson Radio System, its signature RAN product suite that has been a major part of its apparent recovery. Specifically Ericsson is launching something called the RAN Compute portfolio, which consists of a couple of baseband processors and a couple of radio processing units designed to be positioned wherever in the network you want your processing to be done. In other words this is a mobile edge computing play.

The other big thing in new, improved ERS is some new software called Ericsson Spectrum Sharing. This is designed to help with dynamic support of both 4G and 5G on the same spectrum, so long as you’re using ERS shipped since 2015, and can be installed remotely. While some of 5G will take place on higher frequencies, the stuff currently being used by 4G has the best propagation characteristics and will therefore remain valuable. This is the kind of 5G software upgrade Ericsson has been promoting as a key feature of ERS from the start.

“The hardware and software that we are launching today continues to address the flexibility needed for the next-generation networks,” said Ericsson EVP of Networks Fredrik Jejdling. “They offer our customers an expanded and adaptable 5G platform, making it easier for them to deploy 5G.”

We had a chat with Nishant Batra, Head of Product Area Networks at Ericsson, ahead of the announcement and he stressed this is all about ramping ERS’s 5G capability. Initially the propaganda was all about it being 5G upgradable, then about being ready for the 5G launch. Now the narrative revolves around this kit being positioned for the mass deployment of 5G.

Ericsson wants the world to see a picture of growing positive momentum and trying to be the perceived leader in 5G kit is a key part of that. “The momentum has never been better and we want to keep accelerating,” said Batra.

All this RAN shininess isn’t much good without some top-notch backhaul, however, and nobody is claiming that as an Ericsson strength. 5G is set to massively increase the volume of data passing across networks so, which being sure to big-up its own Router 6000 backhaul product and microwave tech, Ericsson has announced the extension of its partnership with Juniper to augment its transport efforts, as well as a new partnership with ECI on the optical side. So much for the big Ericsson Cisco partnership eh?

“Our radio expertise and knowledge in network architecture, end-user applications and standardization work put us in an excellent position to understand the requirements 5G places on transport,” said Jejdling. “By combining our leading transport portfolio with best-in-class partners, we will boost our transport offering and create the critical building blocks of next-generation transport networks that benefit our customers.”

“Commercial 5G is expected to represent close to a quarter of all global network traffic in the next five years,” said Manoj Leelanivas, Chief Product Officer at Juniper Networks. “With both companies bringing together industry-leading network technology, Juniper and Ericsson will be able to more effectively capitalize on the immense global market opportunity in front of us and help our customers simplify their journey to fully operational 5G networks.”

In other Ericsson news it has indulged in a rare bit of M&A via the acquisition of US service assurance vendor CENX. This move is designed to augment Ericsson’s OSS and managed services offerings and CENX is all about cloud-native automation, so its technology and 185 staff should be especially helpful in the area of virtualization. They haven’t said what it cost.

“Dynamic orchestration is crucial in 5G-ready virtualized networks,” said Mats Karlsson, Head of Solution Area OSS at Ericsson. “By bringing CENX into Ericsson, we can continue to build upon the strong competitive advantage we have started as partners. I look forward to meeting and welcoming our new colleagues into Ericsson.”

“Ericsson has been a great partner and for us to take the step to fully join Ericsson gives us the best possible worldwide platform to realize CENX’s ultimate goal – autonomous networking for all,” said Ed Kennedy CEO of CENX. “Our closed-loop service assurance automation capability complements Ericsson’s existing portfolio very well.”

Lastly Ericsson has announced a new partnership with US operator Sprint to build a new virtualized core and operating system dedicated just to IoT. Network slicing will be a major feature of the 5G era and IoT has network requirements quite distinct from other usage models, so it makes sense to not just apportion a piece of the network to it, but customise all the other tech too.

“We are combining our IoT strategy with Ericsson’s expertise to build a platform primed for the most demanding applications like artificial intelligence, edge computing, robotics, autonomous vehicles and more with ultra-low-latency, the highest availability and an unmatched level of security at the chip level,” said Ivo Rook, SVP of IoT for Sprint. “This is a network built for software and it’s ready for 5G. Our IoT platform is for those companies, large and small, that are creating the immediate economy.”

“Sprint will be one of the first to market with a distributed core network and operating system built especially for IoT and powered by Ericsson’s IoT Accelerator platform,” said Asa Tamsons, Head of Business Area Technology & Emerging Business at Ericsson. “Our goal is to make it easy for Sprint and their customers to access and use connected intelligence, enabling instant and actionable insights for a better customer experience and maximum value.”

That Ericsson is making so many announcements ahead of MWC Americas would appear to be a major endorsement of the event and of the GSMA’s regional expansion of the MWC brand. The timing might also have been influenced by the staging of Huawei’s Operations Transformation Forum event and even IFA, and it’s clear there is room in the telecoms calendar for big Autumn trade fests.

T-Mobile US and Sprint finally get some support for merger

Budget MVNO Ting Mobile has come out in support of the proposed T-Mobile US and Sprint merger, standing pretty lonely opposite the waves of opposition.

In a letter to the FCC, Elliott Noss, CEO of parent company Tucows, has penned his support for the merger. While there certainly will be support for the transaction outside of the T-Mobile US and Sprint offices, Noss is creating a pretty lonely silhouette at the moment.

“In a general sense, we think the T-Mobile/Sprint merger makes strong business sense and will generally benefit most stakeholders,” Noss states. “For greater clarity, we view the group of stakeholders as customers, employees and investors, in that order.

“We believe customers will benefit from a more efficient, profitable company which will allow greater investment in building the current Sprint spectrum in particular. We are uncertain whether customers will benefit from lower prices as we have seen in Canada (with the most expensive mobile phone service in the world) that three competitors and no MVNO presence in the market leads to clear oligopolistic pricing and a minimum of competitive pricing pressures.”

While the queue opposing the merger has been growing over the last few days, T-Mobile US has apparently been lobbying MVNOs and customers to build its own legion of support. There there have been few public statements so far, this might well be the first, and although Tucows is not a massive player, having an established business will count for something.

For those who are not aware of Tucows and its Ting Mobile brand, the organization operates out of Ontario in Canada and Mississippi in the US, using both Sprint and T-Mobile US’ networks. The firm generated revenues of $81 million for the quarter ending August 8, with a net income of $3.6 million. This quarter demonstrated a 4% decline in revenues, though the firm is up 15% year-on-year for the first six months.

The general message here seems to be one which contradicts that of the bigger telco boys; light-touch regulation is the way forward and this merger will benefit US consumers and businesses.

Looking at the opposition, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) union, satellite operator Dish and MVNO Altice USA were the latest to join. Dish and Altice USA have both stated the merger would make them reconsider entering the mobile race in the US, though Tucows clearly believes this is a lot of hot air. The merger would not prevent it from succeeding in the future.

“We had chosen Sprint and T-Mobile as our service providers originally for a variety of reasons, including price, device compatibility, territorial coverage, protocol coverage (CDMA and GSM), and MVNO-friendly policies and practices,” Noss states. “These factors were not the same for both companies. In some cases, Sprint is stronger than T-Mobile. In other cases, T-Mobile has advantages. Mostly, we chose to add T-Mobile as a second network in 2014 in order to have diversity of supply and to have some leverage with our suppliers in hopes of balancing an unequal bargaining position.

“In combination, a new Sprint/T-Mobile entity should continue to provide diverse support for geography, protocols, and device support. Sprint and T-Mobile, however, have different approaches to pricing and MVNO policies and support generally, and they have not announced which practices will prevail in a post-merger company.”

Noss believes a healthy MVNO sector can compensate for reduced competition as a result of the merger, and this ecosystem should be given more attention by the FCC. Neglecting the MVNO market would create the same sticky situation Canadians are facing in terms of competition, which would have more of a negative impact that the combination of Sprint and T-Mobile.

This is an opportunity for Noss to have a moan at regulators for neglecting the MVNO market to date, most notably the adoption of eSIMs, however it is fundamentally in support of the merger. Tucows might be a minnow on the US telco scene, but should the T-Mobile US lobbying efforts work, enough support from the MVNOs will have to be taken into consideration. Could this be the first of many…

CWA, Dish and Altice USA join the T-Mobile/Sprint opposition

With conflicting predictions on the outcome of the industry’s biggest will-they/won’t-they flying everywhere, opposition to the deal from a communications union, Dish and Altice has started to scrap for attention.

The Communications Workers of America (CWA) union, satellite operator Dish and MVNO Altice USA have all aired their grievances, as the industry seemingly turns against the prospects of reducing competition across the US. While we suspect politically-minded individuals actually care very little regarding the concerns of Joe Bloggs, enough resistance from corporations could certainly have an impact on the decision making process.

Mergers of this nature are particularly sensitive to authorities due to the direct impact on competition. The difficulty is focused around the idea of ‘public interest’, a loosely defined term which underpins opinion in a huge number of legal cases in the US. Unfortunately for the US and its citizens, the definition of ‘public interest’ can depend on numerous factors and is rarely 100% consistent.

Looking at the opposition raised in recent days, the focus seems to be around three themes; competition, national security and jobs. Competition is the main focus here, so will get the lion’s share of attention.

When looking to raise support for the transaction, T-Mobile and Sprint executives have pointed towards the idea of consolidated networks and more efficient supply chains to bridge the gap created by AT&T and Verizon at the top of the communications rankings. According to Dish and the CWA, this is nothing more than hot air, as neither organization needs the merger as a means to provide 5G services or could not exist without the deal. As 5G services would be brought without the proposed tie-up, the public interest aspect is questioned as why would it be logical to remove a fourth player.

Another interesting point is the spectrum screen. The FCC gets very fidgety when one telco controls more than 33% of available spectrum in a given region, though should the deal go through, this would be the case across 66% of the US, a landmass which acts as home to 92% of US citizens according to the CWA. Altice USA believes one of the conditions of the deal should be the divestment of spectrum which exceeds the screen, as well as the associated network infrastructure, to improve opportunities for MVNOs and smaller telcos.

But perhaps the most important assertion here is the prevention of competition. Dish has stated the tie up would possible prevent it entering the wireless market with its own offering, while Altice USA has expressed concerns over whether the new organization would honour its own MVNO agreement with Sprint. Altice USA has said it is on track to launch an offering in 2019, though there have been no guarantees its ability to compete would not impaired by the transaction.

Predictions on whether reducing the number of wireless operators from four to three vary quite considerably, though there will certainly be concern if MVNOs start rowing backwards due to the deal. Taking Sprint out of the equation is one problem, but MVNOs disappearing will have another painful impact on competition.

Dish argues customisation of radios, chipsets and devices by the new organization would prevent it from entering the 5G mobile voice/broadband market, or at the very least delay it. Altice USA has pointed to comments from T-Mobile US CEO John Legere, which it believes demonstrates hostility towards MVNOs. Finally, the CWA has suggested the removal of head-to-head competition between the pair would be detrimental, while each has a viable future in the 5G world as a standalone business.

Looking at the other arguments, there seem to be less credibility. On the jobs front, the CWA predicts under the proposed terms of the transaction, 28,000 jobs would be sacrificed. 12,600 would be in the postpaid business, 11,800 in the prepaid and 4,500 in head office roles. As with any merger, there will certainly be crossover and therefore redundancies, though considering the combined workforce of the two organizations is in the region of 80,000-90,000, we can’t imagine redundancies will be as high as 33%.

In terms of national security, the CWA suggests Softbank is too close to Huawei and ZTE. The union quotes Sprint executives, claiming they have praised the technology of the two vendors, though this is hardly a surprise; many telcos around the world have paid compliments to Huawei in particular for the excellence of products, customisation and account management capabilities. Huawei is the market leader for communications infrastructure for a reason.

The national security argument seems to be nothing more than a shallow attempt to rile paranoid politicians who already have a Chinese bee in their bonnet. The link appears to be a smear attempt, attributing comments which are far from uncommon to a single business. It is an underhanded move and undermines the credibility, assuming it has much, of the union.

Although we do not see much substance to the employment and national security arguments, the competition concerns from all three are somewhat justified. Authorities will certainly have some alternative ideas to consider and it tough to see how this merger will be approved within the 90-day targeted window.

Sprint promises H1 2019 5G device launch, but do you actually want it?

Sprint has announced a new partnership with LG to deliver its first 5G-compatible smartphone to US customers in the first half of 2019.

The launch date is largely what was expected by industry commentators, though Sprint attempting to grab the 5G PR points in this stage of the race. While all four of the US telcos have been scrapping for the right to claim the ‘first’ 5G network launch, targeting the end of this year, it actually means very little without the devices. This partnership is another incremental step towards the consumers dream of buffer-free cat videos. The first to deliver that dream with a device could see a notable uplift in subs.

“Sprint is moving fast on the road to 5G and we are thrilled to announce the first 5G smartphone with the innovative team at LG,” said Sprint CTO John Shaw. “LG has done tremendous work developing technical designs that enable us to be among the first movers in mobile 5G.

“Today’s announcement brings us one step closer to putting a beautifully-designed advanced 5G smartphone in our customer’s hands. And we’re excited to revolutionize the mobile industry as we dramatically improve the way Sprint customers work, play and stay connected.”

“LG has been working side-by-side with Sprint for nearly 20 years, and we are looking forward to expanding this partnership with 5G,” said William Cho, LG Electronics North America CEO. “Building on LG’s legacy of innovation, our teams are enthusiastic about partnering with Sprint’s 5G experts to bring next-generation mobile to market in the U.S., while continuing to evolve LG’s best-in-class design elements for Sprint customers.”

Motorola was the first to stroke the 5G dragon earlier this month, announcing the new moto z3 and 5G moto mod devices which will be available on Verizon’s 5G network next year, though LG is not far behind. With manufacturers looking to partner specific networks with the initial launch, you have to wonder whether the premium manufacturers are having the same conversation. Having exclusive access to the first Samsung or Apple 5G device would certainly be a major boost for a telco, irrelevant as to whether it is for the briefest moment.

The first markets to live the Sprint 5G dream will be Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, New York City, Phoenix and Washington, with the Massive MIMO technology at the heart of the rollout. Once the on-switch has been flicked, Sprint claims users will be able to experience 10x faster speeds from day one.

For years, 5G has been an exciting conversation, though there has been little for the consumer to get excited about. Announcing devices makes the technology real, a concept which consumers will actually be able to visualise. Right now the PR machine is in second gear, but the euphoria will soon start to escalate as soon as design concepts and features are inevitably leaked by an ‘unknown source’.

AT&T and T-Mobile US are yet to unveil their plans, but we suspect it won’t be long. With the billions of dollars and millions of man-hours being spent on 5G infrastructure development and deployment, the telcos will want to stoke the excitement and on-board customers as soon as possible.

This is certainly a positive step forward, but an interesting question remains; do you actually want to have one of the first available 5G devices?

There will of course be excitement and a race for tech-enthusiasts to get their hands on the device, but will it be any good? One thing you can guarantee is the devices will be expensive, perhaps explaining the dip in smartphone shipments across this year, but first-to-market products are usually a shadow of the updated versions hitting the shelves a couple of months later.

The upgraded features will of course be useful, and there will certainly be bragging rights down the pub (or more likely on the message boards of Reddit), though it is Motorola and LG who are launching first. These are perfectly good devices, but if you ask those who consider themselves ‘tech experts’, they do not compare to the likes of Samsung and Apple.

The risk here is the race. Just as the telcos are racing to the first network launch, the handset manufacturers are racing towards the first product launch. There is a risk mistakes will be made and lessons learned, it will be a first after all. Maybe it will be worth just soaking in the buzz over the first couple of months, waiting for the launches a couple of months down the line.