What’s Up in Local Telco Land?

May 30, 2013

The completed reverse merger of T-Mobile USA and MetroPCS to form publicly traded T-Mobile US Inc. had me thinking back when AT&T spun AT&T Wireless off into it’s own publicly traded company.  That independent, Redmond headquartered entity lasted less than three years before being purchased in 2004 by Cingular Wireless, whose parent, SBC, then went on to purchase AT&T and keep the name.  Back then, when AT&T Wireless was spun off, not many figured it to be one of the aggressive players in the mobile industry.  Sure enough, it wasn’t.

The same fate most likely awaits T-Mobile US.  The MetroPCS deal was seen by many to be Deutsche Telekom’s way of beginning to exit the U.S. market.  By most accounts, T-Mobile US lacks the heft, via customer base or balance sheet, to be the aggressor in upcoming deals.  As the industry awaits the shakeout amongst Sprint, Softbank, Dish and Clearwire, T-Mobile US may end up being a consolation prize for one of the former.  Or T-Mobile may find itself next in the sites of a combined Sprint/Softbank.  I’ve advocated a T-Mobile/Dish merger that would attempt to shakeup the standard way of doing business in both the wireless industry and cable/satellite TV industry.  The combined company would have a shaky set of financials, highly leveraged, and would have to get creative in taking on the industry behemoths.  For customers, the possibilities could be intriguing.   For investors, not so much.

With Clearwire soon to lose its independence and T-Mobile US likely not far behind, the region will be without a large or publicly traded wireless player with a Seattle area headquarters.  This would be ironic, given that the area was once home to McCaw Cellular, Western Wireless and Voicestream.  No doubt the expertise is still here, but the flag wavers of the industry are now mostly elsewhere.