T-Mobile uses FWA and digital divide as latest Sprint merger justification

T-Mobile US has announced the launch of an LTE Fixed Wireless Access service, which could address the connectivity needs of 50 million people, assuming the Sprint merger is approved of course.

It hasn’t been billed as an Uncarrier move from T-Mobile, however it has the potential to be quite disruptive. The team has pointed to statistics which suggest 61% of rural customers either have no or only one home broadband services available to them, offering a significant opportunity for CEO John Legere and his magenta army, if they can prove the concept works effectively.

In the first instance, T-Mobile plans to invite 50,000 customers to participate in the live trial, though should the bureaucrats approve the Sprint merger, the team would be able to open this up to 9.5 million customers by 2024. And thanks to 5G, T-Mobile is promising speeds “in excess” of 100 Mbps to 90% of the forecasted FWA footprint, also by 2024.

“Two weeks ago, I laid out our plans for home broadband with the New T-Mobile,” said Legere. “Now, we’re already hard at work building toward that future. We’re walking the walk and laying the foundation for a world where we can take the fight to Big Cable on behalf of consumers and offer real choice, competition and savings to Americans nationwide.”

Although FWA is not a long-term, realistic alternative to fibre, at least not on the current airwaves, T-Mobile could certainly craft a useful position here. Pricing the service at $50 per month, the team suggests customers could save $360 per year, assuming the average monthly cost of home broadband is $80.

For T-Mobile this is perfect timing to plug the benefits of the Sprint merger and gain the interest of influential politicians. With the 2020 Presidential Election machine beginning to crank into first gear, potential candidates and the President himself will be looking for soundbites to rollout to the Middle America rallies. The FWA service ticks two boxes here.

Firstly, with so many rural consumers (and potential voters) either unable to purchase a home broadband service, or only having a single option, T-Mobile is providing an answer. In most cases, the reason home broadband is not available is due to an inability for the telco to prove ROI or the geographical landscape makes it incredibly difficult. FWA addresses these problems.

Secondly, $360 is a lot of money. T-Mobile has a track record of undercutting rivals while delivering a service which is at least on par. This might well be an offering which will attract the interest of many.

Should any politician be involved in forcing the T-Mobile and Sprint merger through, it would be an excellent anecdote for the ambitious politicians to take to potential voters. Not only are they delivering Middle America the internet, they are doing it cheaper than what is available to everyone else around the country.

T-Mobile is promising the merged company will use a low-cost structure to aggressively capture market share by undercutting rivals. This strategy is not only a chance for Legere to further irritate AT&T and Verizon, but it is a massive plug for the merger. In an FCC document, T-Mobile suggests by “monetizing available spectrum and leveraging off of other deployed network assets, the in-home service will be profitable on its own”. The underlying message is quite clear; look what we can do once you greenlight the merger.

Interestingly enough, T-Mobile seems to be fighting the competition concerns in the wireless market, with the opportunity to enhance competition in the wireline market. Soon enough, the merger judges will have to decide what is more important; maintaining the four MNO balance or creating more competition in the home broadband arena.

“These pro-competitive and pro-consumer in-home broadband benefits are clearly merger-specific, verifiable, and compelling considerations to inform the Commission’s overall review of the merger’s effects on competition and the public interest,” the statement to the FCC reads.

Another point which will gain the attention of the pro-consumer politicians and bureaucrats is the promise of free hardware. T-Mobile is promising the LTE router will be provided and installed at no-cost to the consumer, and as soon as 5G is available in the area, the upgraded 5G router will be provided free of charge.

The merger is still hanging in the balance, but the promise of increased competition in the broadband world, especially with the prospect of a race to the bottom, might turn some heads. The pros and cons of the T-Mobile/Sprint merger are starting to become very interesting

Potential Presidential candidates line up to oppose T-Mobile/Sprint merger

Leading opponents of President Trump have signed a letter to the FCC condemning the proposed T-Mobile US and Sprint merger, suggesting the threat of regionalised monopolies and sky-high bills.

Signed by the likes of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, all of whom are potential opponents of Trump in the 2020 race to the White House, the 19-page document offers a broad and deep range of reasons for the FCC to block the merger. Whether the Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai elects to read the letter is anybody’s guess, such is the state of US politics today.

“The two companies have proposed a four-to-three merger that is likely to raise prices for consumers, harm workers, reduce competition, exacerbate the digital divide and undermine innovation,” the letter states.

“Blocking this proposed combination is necessary to send a strong signal that our enforcement officials are vigorously protection Americans from harmful anticompetitive behaviour.”

Which way this decision will go is still very unclear, but the paperwork arguing against the merger is starting to stack up. These nine politicians are firmly standing in opposition of the transaction, while on the other side of the line, T-Mobile US and Sprint are struggling to muster support. It seems few people are pro-merger, though when has politics ever followed the glories of logic.

As many these transactions, the main crux of the argument seems to be focused around competition. The Senators not only fear there will be nefarious conversations behind closed doors to carve the US into regionalised monopolies between the three remaining players, but they also question this suggests the telcos don’t really care about poorer families and those who are living in the chasm of the digital divide.

One point which might strike a chord for those considering the proposed merger is the focus of the telcos on low- and medium-income families. The letter suggests the two parties has aggressively competed against each other for these demographics, while there is also evidence of a high diversion ratio between offerings. Combining the two would remove this market dynamic, as well as the driver to offer competitive tariffs for lower-income individuals.

Another factor to consider here would be the impact on competitiveness of the wholesale market, and the subsequent ability for MVNOs to remain competitive, another option for low income individuals.

“The proposed merger would permit the new T-Mobile to steadily racket up wholesale prices on MVNOs and block them out of the market,” the letter claims.

While screwing the poor is often considered a political no-no irrelevant as to where you are in the world, Pai is seemingly not built from the same clay. A few months back, the FCC Chairman attempted to rid the ‘Lifeline’ initiative from the books, a programme which was designed to help poorer families and communities bridge the digital divide. This is one of the reasons the House Committee on Energy and Commerce has promised to exercise more oversight on the FCC, suggesting in a letter last week, some of Pai’s actions are not in the ‘public interest’.

Another damning point to the proposed merger is that is being sold on false pretences. The T-Mobile and Sprint management teams have together been promising a newly merged business would allow scale and efficiencies to effectively deliver 5G, though the Senators argue that these are two businesses which have deployment plans which would work on a standalone basis also.

This should not be surprising, as any good business will have created a standalone 5G strategy should the merger be blocked, this is just common sense, though the Senators argue the merger would not necessarily speed up deployment or create a challenge to the leading pair of AT&T and Verizon. Back in 2011, AT&T argued it should be allowed to acquire T-Mobile as there was no feasible way the company could compete in the 4G market but fast-forward a couple of years and look at the result. The T-Mobile success might count against it from a precedent perspective.

On the investment side of things, the argument for the merger also falls apart a little. The merged business has promised to spend $40 billion over the next three years (or three years after the green light) to make 5G a reality. However, both telcos have said they spent $10 billion in CAPEX across 2018 separately. Doing basic maths, the $40 billion of the combined business would not exceed the CAPEX of the standalone business. Economics of scale and a larger network footprint would of course impact this number, but it is a point well made by the Senators.

While we are sure there are Senators who genuinely object to this merger, it is tough to look past the fact so many of these signatories are potential Presidential candidates. For T-Mobile and Sprint, this could quickly evolve into a nightmare.

The positions have been perfectly pitched here. These are Senators who are protecting the interests of the poor, fighting to for the benefits of those in rural communities and of course, battling to make life better for families. These are all political hot buttons and excellent rhetoric to win the favour of potential voters in the run up to the next election. These are arguably the demographics which pushed Trump over the line in 2016.

T-Mobile and Sprint might now be caught between a rock and a hard place. With such politically motivated opposition and few friendlies fighting their case for the greenlight, the path forward is becoming increasingly bumpy.

Legere and T-Mobile running riot again

He might be wild-eyed, egotistical and unconventional, but you can’t argue with the results T-Mobile US CEO John Legere is delivering shareholders.

Reporting 2018 full year financials, T-Mobile US has continued the rip-roaring success of the last few years. Total revenues for 2018 finished at $43.3 billion, up 7% year-on-year, alongside 7 million net customer additions, 4.5 million of which were in the lucrative branded postpaid segment.

“This never gets old,” Legere proclaimed. “T-Mobile finished another year with record breaking financials and our best-ever customer growth. Record revenues, strong net income, record Adjusted EBITDA, our lowest-ever Q4 postpaid phone churn that was better than AT&T for the very first time.

“T-Mobile is competing hard and winning customers – and we continue to deliver results beyond expectations. Our 2019 guidance shows that we expect our incredible standalone momentum to continue.”

All this, and the telco still hasn’t launched the much-anticipated TV offering.

When Legere first walked into the room as CEO in September 2012 investor jaws must have hit the floor. This is not a man who looks like a business leader in one of the most risk-adverse and stuffy industries on the planet, and when the first Uncarrier move was announced in 2013, a few must have been close to passing out.

Going against everything which everyone knew in the industry, March 2013 saw the introduction of the first Uncarrier offer. A new streamlined plan for customers which dropped contracts, subsidized phones, coverage fees for data, and early termination fees. This was certainly a break from the status quo and since this point numerous new Uncarrier moves have been introduced almost doubling revenues (2012 full year was $22.5 billion). It might not be traditional, but this is a success story like few others.

At the end of the three-month period, T-Mobile had a total of 79.6 million customers and a postpaid churn rate of 0.99%. This is still a company which should be considered a challenger, but T-Mobile US is making steady progress. It is not accelerating towards the leadership duo of Verizon and AT&T, but it certainly is not slowing up either. The big question is whether this momentum can be maintained.

With 5G on the horizon, the team certainly have the raw materials to create another few Uncarrier plays. Deployment of 600 MHz is setting the scene for a launch, with the team promising the network will be ready for the introduction of the first standards-based 5G smartphones in 2019. By the end of 2018, T-Mobile US claims to have cleared spectrum for approximately 135 million POPs and with the ambition to clear spectrum covering 272 million POPs by the end of 2019.

All this and the team still hasn’t done anything with the Layer123 purchase of December 2017. Alas, a TV Uncarrier move is just something we’ll have to look forward to over the next couple of months.

US operators belatedly act to protect user location data

AT&T and Verizon announced that they will terminate all remaining commercial agreements that involve sharing customer location data, following a report exposing the country’s mobile carriers’ failure to control data sharing flow.

Jim Greer, a spokesman for AT&T, said in a standard email to media: “Last year, we stopped most location aggregation services while maintaining some that protect our customers, such as roadside assistance and fraud prevention.” Referring to the Motherboard exposé, Greer continued, “In light of recent reports about the misuse of location services, we have decided to eliminate all location aggregation services — even those with clear consumer benefits.”

This is similar to the position T-Mobile’s CEO John Legere adopted when responding to the criticism from the US Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). Verizon also announced that the company will sever four remaining contracts to share location data with roadside assistance services. After this Version will need to get customers’ explicit agreement to share their data with these third-party assistance companies. Sprint, which was also caught out by the Motherboard report, is the only remaining nation-wide carrier that has not announced its plan on the issue.

This is all good news for the American consumers who are concerned with the safety of their private data. On the other hand, mobile operators have hardly been the worst offenders when it comes to compromising the privacy and security of customer data. Earlier, Google was exposed to have continued tracking users’ location even after the feature had been switched off, while Facebook has been mired in endless privacy controversies.

Monetising user data is only a side and most likely insignificant “value-add” business for the mobile operators, because they live on the service fees subscrbers pay. But it is the internet heavyweights’ lifeline. This may sound fatalistic but it should not surprise anyone if the Facebooks and the Googles of the world come up with more innovative measures to finance the “free” services we have benn used to.

T-Mobile US bags another million, while AT&T makes doubles down on 5G claims

It’s been a busy day on the US side of the pond as T-Mobile US reported its full-year subscription figures, while AT&T promised a nationwide 5G rollout with few details.

Starting with the controversial and confrontational T-Mobile, the magenta army claims to have added total net customer additions of 2.4 million to the ranks over the last three months, while 2018 on the whole stood at 7 million total net adds. In the final quarter, the numbers stood at 1.4 million branded postpaid net additions, 1 million of which were branded postpaid phone net additions, making it the best quarter in four years.

“The T-Mobile team delivered our best customer results ever in Q4 2018 and we did it in a competitive climate while working hard to complete our merger with Sprint,” said John Legere, CEO of T-Mobile. “That’s 23 quarters in a row where more than 1 million customers have chosen T-Mobile – along with a postpaid phone churn result that’s below 1%. These customer results speak volumes about our company, our network and our brand.”

There is no question T-Mobile US has been a success story under the leadership of Legere, but the big question is how he has done it. In short, Legere has not conformed to the status quo, as you can probably pick up from his ranting and raving on social media, but hyper-targeted marketing has also played a role.

This is a strategy which has been in the making for some time now, the team promised to address markets and demographics which are apparently underserved, or blurred together with generic marketing campaigns. It seems to be the incremental increase approach to growth, but you can’t argue with success.

“…it’s the strategy we laid out for you, going back to 2015 and 2016 is in full effect now,” said COO Mike Sievert on the earnings call. “We said we were going to expand distribution, we did that. We said we were going to expand the segments that we go after and we did that. We were going to add a very serious focus on business, we did that. So, the results have the benefit of all those things in the runway now.

“So that’s a phenomenal uptick. Our suburban market share, we think is 14% to 15%. Our rural market share, we think is sub-10%. Military and older people, 55 plus, sorry Braxton. We think we have a 10%-ish share of both those segments that we’ve been focusing on for a year right now. So, lots of runway behind the strategy left to go, but you are starting to see, as we promised you would the effects of those investments now flowing through into our results.”

One segment which is in currently in the crosshair is enterprise customers. The team might have had one of the most successful quarters to date in this area, according to Sievert, but market share is very low currently. AT&T and Verizon naturally hold the lion’s share of the business, but T-Mobile US has already shown it is perfectly capable of making a challenge to the ‘duopoly’.

Looking ahead to the 5G bonanza, the T-Mobile team has decided to sit out the initial race, or how this has been spun by the PR ‘gurus’, instead focusing on the long-term nationwide charge.

“We are the only ones that have a plan to bring 5G nationwide in 2020,” said Sievert. “And the others are focused on millimetre wave in some places. We are bringing 5G everywhere we operate, and we are doing it by next year and that’s a real differentiator.”

In the pursuit of coverage and due diligence, Sievert is not being factually correct here, making a statement which is indeed inaccurate.

Looking over at the AT&T business, the team has made its own statement, perhaps an effort to redirect attention from the misleading statements it has made concerning ‘5Ge’. This marketing ploy is of course nothing more than an attempt to pray on the un-informed, using small print to its greatest effect, though whether the latest statement is any better we’ll leave you to decide.

Similar to T-Mobile US’ commitment to 5G, AT&T has now promised ‘nationwide mobile 5G footprint’ using sub-6 GHz spectrum by early 2020. The ambitions are certainly noteworthy from both parties, but what we are struggling to stomach at the moment are a lack of details; no-one has actually stepped forward to say what a nationwide rollout actually means.

Does this mean there will be a 5G footprint in every state? What percentage of the US will be covered by 5G? Will the rural communities have a taste of the new connectivity euphoria or will it simply be limited to the busiest sections of the largest cities? What transportation hubs will become a 5G hotspot? How many 5G cell sites are forecast for the time when nationwide 5G coverage will be claimed?

While we are being particularly critical of the claims, we believe this is necessary for an industry which is not always the most honest with its customers.

Although consumers should remain apathetic, though they probably won’t, to the 5G euphoria, or at least until there are 5G-specific services launched, the new networks will become a major marketing plug for the telcos. The marketing team need something new to talk about, and the ‘bigger, better, faster’ tendencies of these departments will ensure 5G is front-page news.

All of the 5G buzz means very little to the consumer right now, but don’t tell them that. However, on a more positive note, it is quite exciting at how quickly the 5G promise is becoming a reality.

T-Mobile/Sprint merger heads towards final two hurdles

With the CFIUS giving a green light on the $26 billion merger of TMUS and Sprint, attention can now be turned to the final hurdles presented by the Department of Justice (JoJ) and FCC.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the CFIUS (Committee on Foreign Investment in the US), which has been assessing the security implications of the deal, has given the go ahead. There has been no official statement made just yet, the CFIUS has abruptly pointed out it has no legal requirement to do so, though attention has most likely be focused on the last two potential problem areas for some time.

What is worth noting is that while there are opportunities for failure at every turn in the road, the CFIUS was unlikely ever to be a massive problem for T-Mobile or Sprint.

As a bit of background, the CFIUS is a multi-agency committee which assesses the impact of foreign investment on a number of different factors, most notably national security. Although a relatively unknown council, the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act (passed in August) vastly expanded the powers and influence of CFIUS, meaning it could probe into a wider variety of acquisitions, allow it to take longer and finally, charge for the pleasure of doing so.

Thankfully for T-Mobile and Sprint, the national security threat was low risk here. Firstly, you have to consider there isn’t any Huawei or ZTE kit in the pair’s networks right now, secondly, the Defense Authorization Act prohibits the use of any of their equipment or software in the future, and finally, the pair’s parent companies have said they would back away from Huawei for future investments.

It seems the direct threat to US national security, if you are in the camp of believing there is a genuine one, was minimal. The confirmation from non-domestic private businesses that they would pander to political paranoia looks like it was enough to ensure the CFIUS have no objections. All ties to Huawei and ZTE have been severed so it seems its mission accomplished for Trump.

Now it’s onto the tough jobs; the Department of Justice and the FCC.

The FCC is digging its heels in for the moment, extending the 180-day shot clock for approval, as it searches for justification for the deal. This is where the issue may lie for T-Mobile and Sprint, as while the FCC is looking to determine whether a proposed transaction will serve the public interest, convenience and necessity, the evidence and support seems to be stacking up against the pair.

The Department of Justice on the other hand will be looking to assess whether the proposed merger would have a material impact on competition. Too much of a sway in the negative and this deal will head straight to the bin. The four to three operators shift could create monopolies in certain localities which will not be viewed favourably.

The finish line is now in sight, but it is still unclear which direction this will go. While the signs have been positive, the FCC has proven to be a surprise package while there are certainly warranted competition concerns for the DoJ to ponder.

T-Mobile’s Tele2 acquisition is not a sign of changing attitudes from Europe – Lawyer

While some might view European Commission’s decision for T-Mobile Netherlands acquisition of Tele2’s Dutch business as a softening approach to consolidation, White & Case, one of the law firms working on the deal, warned you shouldn’t get too excited.

With the European Commission historically taking an aggressive view against any acquisition which would take a market from four to three operators, T-Mobile Netherlands acquisition of Tele2 Netherlands looked doomed to failure. However, the European Commission has always stated there is no magic number, and each case would be considered on its own merit. Despite this stance, many believed the Commission secretly held the number four as sacred.

“Looking in the rear-view mirror, you could see that the tone seemed to have gotten harsher in terms of the Commission’s approach to four to three operators,” said Mark Powell, one of White & Case’s Partners who co-led the legal team on the deal.

Unfortunately for the European Commission’s claim of impartiality on market consolidation, the evidence has been stacked against it. In Austria, Ireland and Germany, consolidation was approved though there were increasingly stricter MVNO remedies placed on the deal. In Denmark, Telenor and TeliaSonera ditched their own deal just as the European Commission was set to block it. It did have to intervene in the UK with Three and O2, while in Italy consolidation was approved under the condition spectrum was released to create a fourth player, resulting in Iliad’s entry. As time progressed, the attitude towards consolidation seemed to become more vehemently opposed.

With this in mind, the approval of the deal in the Netherlands might have come as a surprise.

“Things are very different in this case,” said Powell. “If the Commission was prepared to look at the very specific conditions, we felt we would have a favourable decision.”

However, what telcos around Europe should bear in mind is the Netherlands is a unique market. This should not be taken as changing attitudes of the European Commission, or a new era where a free-for-all consolidation battle begins. So what were the favourable conditions in the Netherlands?

Firstly, the combined market share of the newly merged business would only be 25%, keeping it in third place. Tele2’s Dutch business was a relatively minor player, only controlling around 5% market share, but is also a pureplay 4G telco. The Commission did not have to worry about 2G or 3G. Another consideration is the aggressive MVNO segment in the country, perhaps compensating for any reduction in competition.

“You could say common sense prevailed, but the fact pattern was recognised by the Commission, so they should be credited for standing by what they say when they said they would look at specific cases and make a decision accordingly,” said Powell.

Another underlying point for the successful merger was the attitude of the regulator. The Dutch regulator was generally receptive to the idea of consolidation, which was perhaps taken into consideration by the Commission. In many of the cases which have gone against consolidation, the regulator has been against the deal. This was certainly the case in the UK Three/O2 merger, where the UK watchdog was publicly hostile to consolidation, as Powell put it.

The final point which Powell believes contributed to the success was the fact the case was heard verbally in court over the course of a single day. These are scenarios which are very fact intensive, resulting in a lot of paper. Simple sending opinions and evidence back and forth creates a mountain of information, perhaps confusing and convoluting opinions. By hearing the case verbally, the court was able to consider and crystallise a decision more effectively.

“At the end of the day, this confirms that if you think you have a strong case, then there is,” said Powell.

This is what should be taken away from this deal. This is not a changing of policy from the European Commission, but conveniently proving it will consider market consolidation in the right circumstances. There isn’t another market in Europe which mirrors the conditions here, but there are markets which could be successful in the same way T-Mobile Netherlands has been here in acquiring Tele2 Netherlands.

Interestingly enough, 5G did not factor into the equation much here. The Dutch 5G auction has not taken place yet, therefore the European Commission was taking into consideration the evidence which was put in front of it. Whether market consolidation is necessary in the 5G world still remains a valid question, and this decision should not be viewed as evidence for either side.

5G will require huge investment by the telcos, significantly more than previous generations, though how to ensure these investments are made in a timely fashion is an interesting question. Should consolidation be preventing to encourage competition and the fear of another eating a telcos lunch, or should it be allowed to ensure scale of customers and confidence in ROI? The debate rages on with pros and cons on either side.

While Powell warned against believing this is a sign the European Commission is softening its approach to market consolidation, it is evidence it can stick to its word that there is no magic number to make competition work.

Netherlands falls to three MNOs as Europe approves T-Mobile/Tele2 deal

The European Commission has officially approved Deutsche Telekom’s acquisition of Tele2’s Dutch business, reducing the number of MNOs in the country from four to three.

For many through the continent this will be seen as progress, as the European Commission has previously viewed reducing the number of MNOs in a single market below four as sacrilege. With telcos across Europe looking for ways to justify the vast expenditures expected for 5G and the full-fibre diets demanding by governments in the fixed space, the prospect of market consolidation is an interesting one.

What is worth noting is this is a relatively minor acquisition. Merging DT’s Dutch business and Tele2’s only adds a relatively small increment, roughly 5%, to the newly merged business. T-Mobile NL would still remain in third position with a market share of 25%, while the European Commission has also questioned Tele2 NL’s role as an important competitive force in the Dutch market. Despite these conditions, this will certainly be viewed as progress for those who sit in the pro-consolidation camp.

“Access to affordable and good quality mobile telecom services is essential in a modern society,” said Commissioner Margrethe Vestager. “After thoroughly analysing the specific role of T-Mobile NL and the smaller Tele2 NL in the Dutch retail mobile market, our investigation found that the proposed acquisition would not significantly change the prices or quality of mobile services for Dutch consumers.”

Through the five month investigation, Vestager and her team decided the proposed merger was unlikely to lead to significant price increases due to the limited incremental impact Tele2 would have on the T-Mobile NL business, the transaction would not increase the likelihood of coordinated behaviour between mobile network operators as there is sufficient enough difference between and the business models, and finally, conditions for virtual mobile network operators due to the proposed merger would not have a serious impact on the level of competition. In short, dropping from four to three operators would not negatively impact the consumer.

Here is the question though; will this decision have any material impact on consolidation decisions elsewhere? Perhaps it might, but we suspect the European Commission will stick to the three operator rule where competition is more intense.

In listing its reasons for approving the deal, Vestager effectively said that Tele2’s Dutch business was small and irrelevant enough to the other players that it being swallowed up by one of them would not make any material impact on competition. In most other markets around Europe the fourth players have much more of a foothold in the market.

Take the UK for instance. Here, Three is the smallest of the MNOs, controlling roughly a 15% market share. On its own it can provide suitable competition to the three larger players, though if it was acquired the gain in total subscribers would have a material impact on market share. This alteration in the status quo could lead to the anti-competition doomsday scenario, or at least this is what the European Commission might believe.

Despite consolidation being a positive for the industry, scale means confidence to invest, operational efficiencies, notable procurement benefits and greater ability to generate ROI, we suspect the European Commission will stick to its four operator rule for most markets. The only exceptions will be in cases like this one, where the fourth player controls a minor market share which would have no material impact on a competitors standing in the market.

That said, this is a step forward for the stubborn European Commission.

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.