The Sprint/T-Mobile merger still has potential to materialize and it seems like we're in a holding pattern at the moment, waiting to see if it will be able to carve portions of its spectrum holdings off to another buyer to maintain the presence of a "fourth" national carrier. Satellite TV provider Dish looks to be the most apparent buyer in the market, but has notoriously been negligent to spend any money building a cellular network, perhaps holding lost hopes of being able to sell its portfolio to other carriers. Now, faced with the crisis of opportunity, the New York Post reports that Dish has been in talks with a board member of Alphabet to finally strike up a new carrier.
Sources have identified the Alphabet director as Alan Mulally, a former CEO of Ford who was credited with helping the automaker survive the Great Recession. The envisioned outcome is that Dish, with its license assets, and Google, with its managerial experience from running its own MVNO, would jointly run a network that would include spectrum that Sprint and T-Mobile would give up as a condition to get approval from the Department of Justice for their merger. For its part, Google has denied any direct talks with Dish on this matter, but did not comment on whether Mulally was communicating with Dish.
T-Mobile would supposedly have concerns about competing with Google if it decided to sell its licenses and some of its networking equipment to Dish — its parent company, Deutsche Telekom, demanded that Dish not sell more than 5% stake in itself to a third party as a condition for the sale, though it has since backed off on this stipulation.
Google's MVNO, Google Fi, utilizes Sprint's, T-Mobile's, and U.S. Cellular's cell networks. By hooking up with Dish, Google Fi could turn into a standalone carrier within three years, market watchers say. These watchers have also told the Post that they feel the Feds would not be terribly concerned if Google were to run a national network. We don't know, though, when Google's network lease agreement with Sprint and T-Mobile will have to be renewed, so there is some potential that Fi may become a theater of war in the intervening time.
Of course, this is predicated on T-Mobile agreeing to sell spectrum to Dish in the first place. Post sources say that a contract is "about halfway there," and could be finalized in a few weeks.
- New York Post