Sprint Plays the Waiting Game

Dan Jones
1/31/2019

Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) is waiting for forward movement on its proposed $25.6 billion merger with T-Mobile US Inc. , as the companies will need each other in order to "scale" 5G deployments against larger rivals AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), Sprint CEO Michel Combes stressed on the company's fiscal Q3 earnings call Thursday.

To that end, Combes said that he still expects that the merger will close in the first half of this year. He didn't expect major merger -- or tax -- impacts because of the government shutdown. Indeed, Combes noted that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) 's 180-day informal review started again on January 29, as the US government restarted. (See 5G Auction Carries On Despite US Government Shutdown.)

Meanwhile, Sprint continues with network buildout plans to support 4G LTE and 5G. Most notably, Sprint now has 75% of its macro sites using 2.5GHz spectrum, which will be used in a split configuration for both LTE and the 3GPP 5G NR mobile standard. CTO John Saw says all of the sites will be covered in the spring of this year. Sprint is supposed to switch on its first 5G services in the first half of this year. Initial 5G cities will include Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, New York City, Phoenix and Washington, D.C. (See Slideshow: Behind the Scenes at Sprint's 5G 'Split'.)

5G devices due to be launched for the service include a Samsung Corp. smartphone and an LG Electronics Inc. (London: LGLD; Korea: 6657.KS) smartphone supporting 2.5GHz frequencies, as well as a High Tech Computer Corp. (HTC) (Taiwan: 2498) "smart hub" connectivity device. (See Sprint's Marquardt on the 5G Sweet Spot and Sprint Unveils Another 5G Device.)

Adding to this, Saw mentioned that Sprint has "hundreds" of massive MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) radios out in the field now. (See Sprint Deploys Samsung's 5G-Ready Massive MIMO Gear.)

As part of this ongoing upgrade, Sprint spent $1.4 billion in capital expenditure, which is doubled year-over-year and up $150 million sequentially.

For the fiscal third quarter, Sprint reported a net loss of $141 million, compared to a net income of $7.2 billion -- with around $7.1 billion in tax benefits from the corporate tax reforms -- reported in the same quarter ending in December 2017. Operating income for the fiscal Q3, ended December 2018, was $479 million, compared to $727 million in the period 12 moths ago.

The operator added 309,000 postpaid net device additions -- including wearables -- in the quarter, up 53,000 from last year.

Sprint shares were up 3.39%, to $6.25 each, in Thursday afternoon trading.

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

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