Sprint & T-Mobile: A Tale of Two Maps

Sprint and T-Mobile's coverage overlaps, while the spectrum doesn't, meaning there will be a lot of work to do if the acquisition does go through.

Sarah Thomas, Director, Women in Comms

June 6, 2014

3 Min Read
Sprint & T-Mobile: A Tale of Two Maps

Sprint's reported $32 billion bid to acquire T-Mobile is about a lot of things -- more customers, scale, and resources to build out its network among them. But, like all the wireless mergers of the past year, it's also about spectrum. (See Sprint, T-Mobile Settle on $32B Price.)

Spectrum has been the stated catalyst for most of the big US wireless mergers, including AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)'s purchase of Leap Wireless and its own attempted T-Mobile US Inc. buy, and T-Mobile's acquisition of MetroPCS. Only with Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) and T-Mobile, the spectrum -- and coverage -- story is a bit complicated. (See FCC Green-Lights AT&T's Leap Buy, T-Mobile Doubles MetroPCS Coverage, AT&T Wants to Buy Sprint's WCS Spectrum, T-Mobile Spends $2.4B on Verizon Spectrum, and US Spectrum Outlook: Smooth Not Crunchy?)

For one thing, Sprint operates a 3G CDMA network and T-Mobile is GSM. Both are building out LTE networks, but are also using some different swatches of spectrum here. They both stand to gain up to 30MHz of 600MHz broadcast TV spectrum that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is setting aside for smaller carriers in an auction next year. However, they would likely lose this privilege if the merger goes through.

What they do have in common is most of their coverage to date has been in major cities, not rural areas. That won't change simply by the two companies merging. What will help, independent of the merger, is a deal Sprint inked with the Competitive Carriers Association and the NetAmerica Alliance LLC that would see it form reciprocal roaming agreements with rural carriers and even help fund their LTE deployments.

T-Mobile, also a CCA member, is not yet part of the agreement. But, in a bid to win merger approval, that is a likely next step. (See Sprint Joins Forces With Rural America on LTE, Rural Carriers: SoftBank Will Fund Your LTE, and Leading Lights Finalists 2014: Best Deal Maker.)

To get a better feel for the third- and fourth-largest US carriers' coverage and spectrum positions, coverage map maker Mosaik Solutions LLC has developed the following helpful images depicting Sprint and T-Mobile's overlap in coverage and spectrum.

Figure 1: Sprint & T-Mobile Coverage Overlap Source: Mosaik Solutions Source: Mosaik Solutions

Figure 2: Sprint & T-Mobile's Aggregate Spectrum Source: Mosaik Solutions Source: Mosaik Solutions

It is clear from the maps that this acquisition isn't about a bigger footprint out of the gate. The two would have a lot of integration work to do, and the most likely result would be the shuttering of one of the two 3G networks.

The acquisition will still have to pass regulatory muster, which many agree will be a formidable challenge. If it does, significant divestitures from Sprint will likely be required to make it palatable, which could end up changing the make-up of these maps even more. (See DT Asks for $1B Prenup for Sprint, T-Mobile — WSJ and Is SoftBank Ready to Reunite With Legere?)

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

About the Author(s)

Sarah Thomas

Director, Women in Comms

Sarah Thomas's love affair with communications began in 2003 when she bought her first cellphone, a pink RAZR, which she duly "bedazzled" with the help of superglue and her dad.

She joined the editorial staff at Light Reading in 2010 and has been covering mobile technologies ever since. Sarah got her start covering telecom in 2007 at Telephony, later Connected Planet, may it rest in peace. Her non-telecom work experience includes a brief foray into public relations at Fleishman-Hillard (her cussin' upset the clients) and a hodge-podge of internships, including spells at Ingram's (Kansas City's business magazine), American Spa magazine (where she was Chief Hot-Tub Correspondent), and the tweens' quiz bible, QuizFest, in NYC.

As Editorial Operations Director, a role she took on in January 2015, Sarah is responsible for the day-to-day management of the non-news content elements on Light Reading.

Sarah received her Bachelor's in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She lives in Chicago with her 3DTV, her iPad and a drawer full of smartphone cords.

Away from the world of telecom journalism, Sarah likes to dabble in monster truck racing, becoming part of Team Bigfoot in 2009.

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