SoftBank chief 'open' to Sprint, T-Mobile merger in US
Masayoshi Son eyes another stab at No. 3 telecom player
TOKYO -- SoftBank Group Chairman Masayoshi Son expressed an eagerness to merge subsidiary carrier Sprint with a fellow U.S. rival while discussing the Japanese mobile giant's group earnings Wednesday.
"We will open-mindedly and aggressively engage in those discussions," said Son, who also is SoftBank's CEO. "T-Mobile US is one of the top candidates, but there may be other possibilities."
Sprint, now the fourth-ranked American mobile provider, agreed to a $21.6 billion buyout from SoftBank in 2013. At the time, the new parent wanted to take over T-Mobile as well, creating an entity rivaling market leaders AT&T and Verizon.
But the Federal Communications Commission under President Barack Obama blocked the proposed T-Mobile merger, forcing SoftBank to give up on the idea in 2014. Now languishing behind third-place T-Mobile, Sprint is restructuring after Son personally considered offloading the struggling carrier.
However, the tide has turned with the new administration. President Donald Trump appointed deregulation advocate Ajit Pai to chair the FCC. Son visited Trump in New York in December before the inauguration, seeing new life for his merger plans.
"It is not healthy for AT&T and Verizon to remain the two giants," Son said Wednesday. "An industry reorganization by Sprint is a key theme. I will be actively engaged in that." Auctions of U.S. wireless spectrum closed at the end of April, opening the door to talks between carriers.
U.S. cable provider Charter Communications also was cited, among other conceivable negotiating partners. "We are open to all kinds of possibilities," Son said, hinting at a potential fusion of mobile communications and broadcasting.
Speculation still abounds in America that SoftBank will sell Sprint, a view that Son dismissed by calling the carrier a "growth engine." He aims to enhance the telecommunications operation in the U.S. through the restructuring.
Sprint has the richest holdings in the high-frequency 2.5-gigahertz spectrum anywhere in the developed world, Son said. He plans to use that strength to provide 5G, or fifth generation, wireless service. SoftBank and Sprint announced Wednesday a technical partnership with U.S. chipmaker Qualcomm to advance that goal.