Son: Dish Could Be Sprint's Great Ally

SAN ANTONIO -- CCA Global Expo -- Dish Network, the thorn in SoftBank's side when it was trying to acquire Sprint, could now be the carrier's biggest ally, according to Sprint's new chairman. (See Dish Throws in the Towel on Sprint Buy.)

Addressing reporters after his keynote address to the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) crowd here on Thursday morning, SoftBank Corp. CEO Masayoshi Son said that Dish Network LLC (Nasdaq: DISH) could be Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S)'s biggest ally in the carrier's fight against the duopoly of AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Verizon Wireless .

"I'd like to partner with Dish in many possible ways," he told reporters. "We are specifically discussing all kinds of alliances and starting a test of technology. They can be our great ally."

Sprint and Dish are already working together on a fixed wireless broadband trial in Corpus Christi, Texas, where Son says it's achieving speeds of up to 200 Mbit/s. He said the pair are doing some testing, but they're also looking at a technology alliance that combines Dish's satellite business with Sprint's LTE network. (See Dish Taps Sprint for 4G Trial in Texas.)

Partnerships like this, and the one it has forged with the CCA's 100 rural carriers, are necessary to stand up to the big two. That was the message of Son's keynote address, but his time chatting with reporters after was spent defending why a merger with a "not specifically named carrier" (aka T-Mobile US Inc. ) was necessary to turn a "pseudo fight" into a "real fight." (See Sprint Joins Forces With Rural America on LTE and Report: SoftBank Preps $19B Bid for T-Mobile.)

"We need even deeper scale to fight back," Son said. "Otherwise, if you are cornered and fighting along by yourself, it's not enough power to fight back. In order to fight back, we cannot be status quo. We have to change the situation, so it's not really four players becoming three. It's two players dominating the market, and we have to fight back."

Son Meet & Greet
Softbank Chairman and CEO Masayoshi Son addresses reporters about fighting the good fight against AT&T and Verizon after his keynote address at the CCA Expo.
Softbank Chairman and CEO Masayoshi Son addresses reporters about fighting the good fight against AT&T and Verizon after his keynote address at the CCA Expo.

He pointed to a GSM Association (GSMA) statistic that AT&T and Verizon had a combined 56% share of the US postpaid mobile market five years ago, a number that has since grown to 73% and will continue to grow if unchecked.

When asked if he's making progress in Washington DC in convincing regulators the merger is good for competition, he quipped, "you have a better understanding," but noted that his goal is to continue to increase understanding. It may seem like basic math: four carriers minus one equals three, but Son said it's not a simple number four. It's an uneven fight; heavyweights versus weaklings. Even coupling Sprint with 100 carriers, as its new Data Roaming Hub does, isn't enough, Son claimed.

"In order to have a sustainable long-term fight, we need scale and efficiency," he said. "Sprint will survive. Survival is not the issue. Can anyone other than those big two have a real fighting situation? Without size it's not a real fight."

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

DOShea 3/31/2014 | 10:16:36 PM
Dish All his talk about Dish sounds pretty vague. I get the ongoing technology trial is something, but I think he is trying to act like the potential distruptor everyone believes him to be.
Bill Van 3/28/2014 | 12:20:01 AM
Re: T-Who? Can Softbank's superstar do what he has done in Japan and in Asia be duplicated in the U.S?   Keep watching Son as he is on track to be a major disruptor in the US big time. i.e Mark Cuban...John Malone 
Mitch Wagner 3/27/2014 | 5:56:06 PM
Former enemies As the Klingon proverb notes: The enemy of my enemy is my friend. 
KBode 3/27/2014 | 5:35:50 PM
Re: T-Who? I just think if Sprint buys T-Mobile they'll go out of their way to be more like AT&T and Verizon, not less. Your behavior is dictated by competitive pressure, and there's just no debating that killing off one of the four big carriers would generate less.

So many promises surrounding consolidation that never, ever materialize. Sprint hasn't even been able to show they can run a competent next-gen network yet. Maybe focus on that before looking at further M&A opportunities?

That said, I'm not sure T-Mobile would fare much better under Ergen control.
Sarah Thomas 3/27/2014 | 5:26:14 PM
Re: T-Who? Yeah, and Son brought that up several times, but just kept saying it's not enough. It's not "real competition." He also promised to show us what a real price war looks like if the acqusition happens. I highly doubt that, but there's definitel room to go lower.
KBode 3/27/2014 | 5:24:26 PM
Re: T-Who? Still seems so very unlikely that regulators are going to let Sprint acquire T-Mobile at a time when T-Mo's being so damn disruptive on consumer policies. It's far more likely a Dish acquisition of T-Mobile gets the regulatory nod...will Son, Sprint and SoftBank be BFFs with Ergen if or when that happens?
billho888 3/27/2014 | 3:57:07 PM
Re: T-Mo Announcement I think it's a matter of timing. If the 700 A Blocks were in hand during this conference, they would have joined the announcement. If the deal wasn't done & they only have the MetroPCS 'Boston' market, it's not as impactful. But it's logical - wholesale roaming growth opportunity for T-Mobile.
Sarah Thomas 3/27/2014 | 3:06:36 PM
Re: T-Who? Good point, Bill. It definitely seemed like when, not if, about T-Mobile joining. I am surprised it hasn't already, but I know they wanted to make this announcement at the show either way.
billho888 3/27/2014 | 2:39:18 PM
Re: T-Who? If and when T-Mobile joins the CCA Data Acess Hub (after getting VZW's 21 licenses for 700 Block A in hand), there will be more commonalities and formal avenues of collaboration. Beyond VZW's A Blocks, TMo still needs to round out top 30 markets from ATT (Chicago), Columbia Capital & others. 
Sarah Thomas 3/27/2014 | 1:25:54 PM
T-Who? Son was a really good speaker. I've never heard a CEO comment so much on something he "can't comment" on. Rather than stay mum, he just kept referring to T-Mobile, but saying "not speaking specifically" or "not naming specific companies." So, guys, who do you think he wants Sprint to merge with? Could be anyone!
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