In Business Model, Internet Access, Mobile

SoftBank Chairman Masayoshi Son seems to be signaling a rational approach to any proposed transaction regarding Sprint. In the past, SoftBank has tried to act as the acquirer of T-Mobile US. And though many (including investment bankers who profit from any transactions of this sort) believe SoftBank might make another run at T-Mobile US, the company also seems to be signaling that any other reasonable deal, including those where Sprint is the target, not the the buyer, are possible.

That seems sensible. For some of us, it never has been so clear how that particular combination would pass antitrust muster, in particular the Heffindahl-Hirshman Index used globally to measure concentration in telecom markets. By HHI metrics, the U.S. mobile market already is highly concentrated, and a Sprint-T-Mobile US merger would only concentrate it further.

Other vertical combinations would not face such immediate problems, might actually preserve or strengthen mobile market competition, and therefore would seem to make much more sense, from the standpoint of asset owners looking to gain scale and scope in the U.S. communications market.

Leading U.S internet service providers Comcast and Charter Communications already have made clear their intention to enter the U.S. mobile market. So one buys T-Mobile US; the other buys Sprint. HHI then is not an issue. Both cable companies become instant market leaders. That would not raise HHI issues related to mobile market concentration.

In fact, those transactions arguably would strengthen both Sprint and T-Mobile US, as well as give them access to the triple-play bundle capabilities possessed by their new owners.

Sure, some will continue to tout the Sprint plus T-Mobile US meme. That is going to be a combination that raises high antitrust concerns. For that reason, some might argue that other vertical combinations will occur, instead. Once the market begins to consolidate, transactions that actually can happen will be much more important than transactions that are denied.


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