Softbank agrees to buy Sprint stake in $20.1 billion deal

MetroPCS, Clearwire

Sprint may seek to bid for MetroPCS Communications Inc. or purchase the rest of Clearwire Corp., people familiar with the matter have said. The company started offering its service on a faster network using the Long Term Evolution, or LTE, technology in five cities in July, with plans to add more this year to catch up with its larger competitors.

Sprint holds 48 percent of Bellevue, Washington-based Clearwire and has an equal percentage of voting power, Mike DiGioia, a spokesman for Clearwire, said Oct. 11. Shares of Clearwire jumped 16 percent today after gaining 78 percent in the last two trading days of last week.

Deutsche Telekom AG, Germany’s largest phone company, agreed Oct. 3 to combine T-Mobile USA with MetroPCS after it failed last year to sell the business to AT&T amid opposition from regulators.

Clearwire’s spectrum is probably a key component and an attractive asset for Softbank, Piecyk said.

Sprint trails Verizon Wireless, which has LTE service in about 340 markets after starting its upgrades a year earlier.

Softbank, the fastest-growing Japanese mobile-phone provider, boosted earnings by more than sevenfold during the past four years with the popularity of the iPhone.

Closing the Gap

That helped it close the gap with larger NTT DoCoMo Inc. and KDDI Corp. AT&T was first to offer the iPhone in the U.S., with Verizon and Sprint adding it later.

Mobile-handset sales in the U.S. increased to 191 million units last year from 182 million units in 2007, according to data compiled by IDC. In contrast, handset shipments declined to 38 million units in Japan last year from 52 million in 2007, according to IDC.

In his 300-year plan announced in 2010, Son, 55, laid out a Darwinian comparison of business to living species and forecast that 99.98 percent of companies would cease to exist in their current form during the next 30 years. He vowed Tokyo-based Softbank would survive.

“Even with the energy of Mr. Son, it won’t be so easy to succeed in the U.S. telecom business,” said Yuuki Sakurai, president of Fukoku Capital Management Inc., which manages 1.5 trillion yen of assets in Tokyo. “There are concerns whether Softbank can really control its diversified businesses going forward.”

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