‘I want to talk to T-Mobile about Sprint merger’ says SoftBank boss

Alan Burkitt-Gray
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Masayoshi Son tells results meeting in Tokyo that he’d love to start talks about a Sprint/T-Mobile US merger

SoftBank boss Masayoshi Son has revived enthusiasm for a merger between its US mobile and wholesale carrier business, Sprint, with Deutsche Telekom’s T-Mobile US.

Speaking this morning during a press conference reporting the company’s annual figures, Son said, according to Reuters reports from Tokyo, “of all potential partners, T-Mobile is the one that would yield the most synergies, the most orthodox choice and we’d sincerely love to begin talks.”

Sprint was talking informally to Deutsche Telekom about a merger almost three years ago, but opposition from AT&T and Verizon brought contacts to an end. However, Son is believed to think that the Donald Trump administration will be more favourable to a merger than the Barack Obama government.

According to the Financial Times, Son he would look at other US deals. “We’re basically open to anything,” the paper quoted him as saying. He said he wanted an “industry realignment” and had “an open mind”.

Back in 2014, AT&T and Verizon each had 34% of the US wireless market, Sprint had 16% and T-Mobile US had 14% – potentially giving a merged operator a strong position against the two big operators. Since then T-Mobile US has increased its market share, thanks to CEO John Legere’s “un-carrier” strategy, offering large quantities of data, and Sprint’s share has fallen.

Regular, but unconfirmed, reports have suggested that SoftBank is now prepared to do a deal with Deutsche Telekom, which owns 65% of T-Mobile US.

Deutsche Telekom CEO Tim Höttges said in November 2016 – a week after Trump’s election victory – that the company was “not in a mood” to sell its business, though that may not exclude an acquisition. Cable and satellite operators are expected to be involved in possible negotiations.

Meanwhile SoftBank – which owns chip design company ARM – is about to launch a $100 billion development and investment fund, backed by Apple and chipmaker Qualcomm.

In his presentation Son referred to SoftBank as the “goose that laid the golden eggs”, and called it “the flying golden goose”.

Reuters said the company expects to invest at least $25 billion over the next five years in its tech fund, making it one of the world’s largest private equity investors. Son told today’s press conference that SoftBank is talking to “about 30” potential investments, covering topics such as artificial intelligence.