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Ajit Pai formally recommends T-Mobile/Sprint merger approval

Posted by | ajit pai, FCC, M&A, Mobile, Policy, sprint, T-Mobile | No Comments

Ajit Pai has long signaled that he would approve a T-Mobile/Sprint merger, but today the FCC chairman made it official. In spite of widespread opposition suggesting that the combining of the country’s third and fourth largest carriers would reduce competition in the marketplace, Pai takes the stance that such a move would actual promote competition.

“After one of the most exhaustive merger reviews in Commission history, the evidence conclusively demonstrates that this transaction will bring fast 5G wireless service to many more Americans and help close the digital divide in rural areas,” Pai said in a statement. “Moreover, with the conditions included in this draft Order, the merger will promote robust competition in mobile broadband, put critical mid-band spectrum to use, and bring new competition to the fixed broadband market. I thank our transaction team for the thorough and careful analysis reflected in this draft Order and hope that my colleagues will vote to approve it.”

Today, I circulated an order that would approve, subject to conditions, the proposed merger of T-Mobile and Sprint . The deal would advance fast #5G across the country, help close #digitaldivide, and put critical mid-band spectrum to use. My full statement: https://t.co/fBKvLnPgmm pic.twitter.com/21r3Us9cUG

— Ajit Pai (@AjitPaiFCC) August 14, 2019

Pai’s statement echoes that of many conservatives on the topic. While T-Mobile and Sprint are in third and fourth place, respectively, AT&T and Verizon are significantly ahead in terms of subscriber bases. Pai and other have suggested that combining the two under the T-Mobile umbrella would help the carriers get a leg up when it comes to competing on a 5G roll out.

Consumers will directly benefit from improvements in network quality and coverage, which in turn will foster innovation in a wide variety of sectors and services (itself creating significant public interest benefits),” Pai’s team writes.Moreover, the transaction will help to close the digital divide by bringing robust 5G deep into rural areas, with enforceable conditions in the draft Order requiring coverage of at least 99% of Americans within six years.”

Last month, the proposed merger was given the go-ahead by the U.S. Department of Justice on the condition that Sprint sell its prepaid assets (including Boost) to Dish network. A growing number of state attorneys general, meanwhile, have opposed the merger. Oregon joined the lawsuit yesterday, bringing the total up to 15 states and the District of Columbia.

“If left unchallenged, the current plan will result in reduced access to affordable wireless service in Oregon — and higher prices,” Oregon AG Ellen Rosenblum said. “Neither is acceptable.”

Pai noted earlier this year that he planned to approve the $26.5 billion deal, which would knock the country’s premium carriers down to three. No word yet on when the Commission will formally vote on the deal.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel had a different take on things, noting, “The FCC’s draft order approving the largest wireless merger in history just landed in my inbox. I believe we need more competition, not less. I am not convinced that removing a competitor will lead to better outcomes for consumers. But what I am convinced of is that before the FCC votes on this new deal negotiated by Washington, the public should have the opportunity to weigh in and comment. Too much here has been done behind closed doors.”

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Oregon joins lawsuit opposing T-Mobile/Sprint merger

Posted by | Mobile, sprint, T-Mobile | No Comments

Oregon this week became the 15th state (plus the District of Columbia) to sign onto a lawsuit seeking to stop a T-Mobile/Sprint merger. The suit, co-signed by 16 attorneys general, argues that a merger between the country’s third and fourth largest carriers would greatly reduce competition in the wireless industry.

“It’s important that Oregon join other states in opposing the Sprint -T-Mobile merger,” said Oregon AG Ellen Rosenblum said in a statement. “If left unchallenged, the current plan will result in reduced access to affordable wireless service in Oregon — and higher prices. Neither is acceptable.”

Texas joined the suit earlier this month, marking one of only two Republican AGs who have signed onto the deal. Conservative voices have largely come out in favor of a merger, suggesting that by joining forces the new company (also named T-Mobile) would increase competition for AT&T and Verizon by getting a leg up in the race to implement 5G.

New York State AG Letitia James says the signee has added “momentum” to push against the merger, which was greenlit by the U.S. Department of Justice in late July.

“Oregon’s addition to our lawsuit keeps our momentum going, and ensures that there isn’t a single region of this country that doesn’t oppose this anticompetitive megamerger,” said James. “We welcome Attorney General Rosenblum to our 16-member coalition that now includes states representing almost half of the U.S. population. We remain committed to blocking the merger of T-Mobile and Sprint because it would bad for consumers, bad for workers, and bad for innovation.”

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OnePlus’ first 5G handset is headed for Sprint

Posted by | 5g, Mobile, OnePlus, smartphones, sprint | No Comments

Sprint this morning announced that it will be the first network to get its hands on OnePlus’s long-promised 5G handset [not pictured]. The Shenzhen-based manufacturer announced late last year that it was targeting 2019 for the device, bucking the trend of being slightly behind the curve on the latest smartphone technologies.

Sprint’s not offering much in the way of actual information here — no pricing or availability. Not even specs or a device name were made available via the press release. Rather, the carrier notes that this is its first 5G smartphone, joining three other non-phone 5G devices for the nascent network.

Last year, OnePlus made a device available for the first time through a U.S. carrier, partnering with T-Mobile for the 6T. It’s made the jump to Sprint this time out, though given merger plans, that distinction may soon be moot regardless. Sprint’s 5G network is currently available in AtlantaChicagoDallas-Fort Worth, Houston and Kansas City, with Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix and Washington, D.C. arriving in “the coming weeks.”

“We are proud to join with Sprint to bring an ultra-premium smartphone to their network,” OnePlus CMO Kyle Kiang said in a release. “As a community-driven company, we are thrilled to tell OnePlus enthusiasts on the Sprint network that the wait is finally over. This is a tremendous opportunity to expose Sprint customers to the award-winning OnePlus brand.”

The partnership isn’t being listed as an exclusive, but OnePlus has generally taken a measured approach to expansion, so it seems likely the company will only offer a single carrier partner this time out.

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Texas joins growing list of AGs looking to block T-Mobile/Sprint merger

Posted by | Mobile, Policy, sprint, T-Mobile | No Comments

Late last week, the DOJ greenlit T-Mobile and Sprint’s $26 billion deal to become the nation’s No. 3 carrier. The deal isn’t officially official just yet, with some prominent opposition facing the merger. A growing list of attorneys general have sued to block the merger, and another big name just came on board.

With the addition of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, the number moves to 15, including the District of Columbia. California, Colorado, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, New York, Virginia and Wisconsin filed the initial suit in June and were soon joined by Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Nevada.

Notably, Paxton is one of only two Republicans on the list — probably not surprising, as many conservative lawmakers have suggested that a merger of the third and fourth largest carriers might actually promote competition. Trump-appointed DOJ antitrust chief Makan Delrahim agreed with carrier suggestions that a merger would help a larger T-Mobile accelerate 5G growth.

Paxton disagreed with the sentiments.

“After careful evaluation of the proposed merger and the settlement, we do not anticipate that the proposed new entrant will replace the competitive role of Sprint anytime soon,” Paxton said in a statement provided to TechCrunch. “It is the Attorney General’s responsibility to preserve free market competition, which has proven to result in lower prices and better quality for consumers. The bargain struck by the U.S. Department of Justice is not in the best interest of working Texans, who need affordable mobile wireless telecommunication services that are fit to match the speed and technological innovation demands of Texas’ growing economy.”

T-Mobile has also come under scrutiny for intense lobbying, including $195,000 spent at Trump’s D.C. hotel since last April.

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T-Mobile and Sprint get DOJ approval for $26 billion merger deal

Posted by | M&A, Mobile, sprint, T-Mobile | No Comments

The U.S. Department of Justice this morning gave the green light to T-Mobile US and Sprint for their proposed $26 billion merger. The deal, which would combine the nation’s third and fourth largest carriers (by subscriber number) has been green lit on the condition that Sprint sell its prepaid assets (including Boost Mobile) to Dish Network.

As part of the deal, some nine million prepaid subscribers will move over to Dish, which will also have access to T-Mobile/Sprint’s network for a period of seven years.

The proposed merger has been under regulatory scrutiny for some time now, as the deal will leave three major wireless carriers accounting for more than 95% of U.S. mobile phone customers. Last month, a group of attorneys general led by New York and California sued to block the deal over concerns that limiting competition would ultimately drive up prices for consumers.

“The promises made by Dish and T-Mobile in this deal are the kinds of promises only robust competition can guarantee,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement offered to TechCrunch. “We have serious concerns that cobbling together this new fourth mobile player, with the government picking winners and losers, will not address the merger’s harm to consumers, workers, and innovation.”

A spokesperson for California’s AG tells TechCrunch that the office is currently reviewing the settlement. As it stands, the lawsuit could still present a hurdle for the deal.

“The reported deal would eliminate Sprint, an established competitor in the wireless marketplace, and replace it with Dish, an unproven newcomer that has no experience in building its own wireless network, which it will need to build essentially from scratch,” George Slover, senior policy counsel for Consumer Reports said in a statement. “The deal reportedly gives DISH some of the building blocks it will need to make a go of it. But it could take years for DISH to get to the point where Sprint is now — if it ever gets there.”

Proponents of the deal, meanwhile, have argued that the merger will actually make a combined T-Mobile/Sprint more competitive with category leaders Verizon and AT&T. Under the deal, T-Mobile (as it will be known) will represent around 80 million consumers in the U.S., making it a much closer third place to the around 100 million subscribers both top carriers currently have. They have argued separately that a deal would make it easier to compete with AT&T and Verizon in the push to deploy 5G, a sentiment with which the DOJ appears to agree.

“With this merger and accompanying divestiture, we are expanding output significantly by ensuring large amounts of currently unused or underused spectrum are made available to American consumers in the form of high quality 5G networks,” DOJ antitrust chief Makan Delrahim told The Wall Street Journal.

T-Mobile has been particularly aggressive in its lobbying attempts, after years of suggesting a proposed merger. Notably, its CEO John Legere and other executives have spent a combined $195,000 at D.C.’s Trump International Hotel since last April.

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Sprint is the latest telecom to offer a tracking device that uses LTE

Posted by | Gadgets, Mobile, sprint, Sprint Tracker, TC, tracker | No Comments

Following in the footsteps of AT&T and Verizon*, Sprint is now offering an LTE tracker. The matchbook-sized device, simply called Tracker, provides real-time location tracking on Safe + Found app.

Sprint Tracker

Sprint’s new Tracker

The Tracker competes with Tile, but instead of Bluetooth, Sprint’s device uses 4G LTE, GPS and Wi-Fi location services, so it can be used to track things, people or pets that might travel a significant distance away, compared to a range of 100 ft to 300 ft for Tile (depending on the version). The Tracker is manufactured by Coolpad and users need to pay $2.50 per month for 24 months to cover the cost of the device, plus an additional $5 per month to connect it.

AT&T and Verizon both launched LTE trackers over the past year and Apple is also rumored to be working on a tracking device that connects to iPhones, based on an asset package for pairing devices by proximity spotted in the first beta of iOS 13 by 9to5Mac.

*Disclosure: TechCrunch is part of Verizon Media, a subsidiary of Verizon Communications.

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Select FCC leaders announce support for T-Mobile, Sprint merger

Posted by | FCC, M&A, Mobile, Policy, sprint, T-Mobile | No Comments

It’s been more than a year since T-Mobile and Sprint formally announced a merger agreement. This morning, members of FCC leadership have issued statements voicing their support for the $26 billion proposal.

Ajit Pai was first out with a statement, suggesting that the pricey consolidation of two of the Unites States’ largest carriers would help accelerate his longstanding desire to provide more internet coverage to rural areas.

“Demonstrating that 5G will indeed benefit rural Americans,” Pai wrote, “T-Mobile and Sprint have promised that their network would cover at least two-thirds of our nation’s rural population with highs peed, mid-band 5G, which could improve the economy and quality of life in many small towns across the country.”

The FCC chairman went on to suggest that the merger “is in the public interest,” adding that he would recommend fellow members of the commission’s leadership approve it. Commissioner Brendan Carr followed soon after with his own statement of approval, suggesting that a merger would actually increase competition.

“I support the combination of T-Mobile and Sprint because Americans across the country will see more competition and an accelerated buildout of fast, 5G services,” the Commissioner writes. “The proposed transaction will strengthen competition in the U.S. wireless market and provide mobile and in-home broadband access to communities that demand better coverage and more choices.”

A number of ground rules have been laid out for approval. In a bid for approval, Sprint has promised to sell off prepaid brand Boost Mobile. “[W]e have committed to divest Sprint’s Boost pre-paid business to a third party following the closing of the merger,” T-Mobile CEO John Legere said in a blog post following the statements of support. “We’ll work to find a serious, credible, financially capable and independent buyer for all the assets needed to run – and grow – the business, and we’ll make sure that buyer has attractive wholesale arrangements.”

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At this point, SoftBank Group is really just its Vision Fund

Posted by | ARM Holdings, Asia, Media, Mobile, SoftBank Group, Softbank Vision Fund, sprint, Tariffs, Venture Capital, yahoo japan | No Comments

Last week, SoftBank Group Corp. — Masayoshi Son’s holding company for his rapidly expanding collection of businesses — reported its fiscal year financials. There were some major headlines that came out of the news, including that the company’s Vision Fund appears to be doing quite well and that SoftBank intends to increase its stake in Yahoo Japan.

Now that the dust has settled a bit, I wanted to dive into all 80 pages of the full financial results to see what else we can learn about the conglomerate’s strategy and future.

The Vision Fund is just dominating the financials

We talk incessantly about the Vision Fund here at TechCrunch, mostly because the fund seems to be investing in every startup that generates revenue and walks up and down Sand Hill looking for capital. During the last fiscal year ending March 31st, the fund added 36 new investments and reached 69 active holdings. The total invested capital was a staggering $60.1 billion.

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A year after outcry, carriers are finally stopping sale of location data, letters to FCC show

Posted by | AT&T, FCC, Government, Mobile, privacy, sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon | No Comments

Reports emerged a year ago that all the major cellular carriers in the U.S. were selling location data to third-party companies, which in turn sold them to pretty much anyone willing to pay. New letters published by the FCC show that despite a year of scrutiny and anger, the carriers have only recently put an end to this practice.

We already knew that the carriers, like many large companies, simply could not be trusted. In January it was clear that promises to immediately “shut down,” “terminate” or “take steps to stop” the location-selling side business were, shall we say, on the empty side. Kind of like their assurances that these services were closely monitored — no one seems to have bothered actually checking whether the third-party resellers were obtaining the required consent before sharing location data.

Similarly, the carriers took their time shutting down the arrangements they had in place, and communication on the process has been infrequent and inadequate.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel has been particularly frustrated by the foot-dragging and lack of communication on this issue (by companies and the commission).

“The FCC has been totally silent about press reports that for a few hundred dollars shady middlemen can sell your location within a few hundred meters based on your wireless phone data. That’s unacceptable,” she wrote in a statement posted today.

To provide a bit of closure, she decided to publish letters (PDF) from the major carriers explaining their current positions. Fortunately it’s good news. Here’s the gist:

T-Mobile swiftly made promises last May, and in June of 2018, CEO John Legere said in a tweet that he “personally evaluated this issue,” and pledged that the company “will not sell customer location data to shady middlemen.”

That seems to have been before “T-Mobile undertook an evaluation last summer of whether to retain or restructure its location aggregator program… Ultimately, we decided to terminate it.” That phased termination took place over the next half a year, finishing only in March of 2019.

AT&T immediately suspended access to location data by the offending company, Securus, but continued providing it to others. One hopes they at least began auditing properly. Almost a year later, the company said in its letter to Commissioner Rosenworcel that “in light of the press report to which you refer… we decided in January 2019 to accelerate our phase-out of these services. As of March 29, 2019, AT&T stopped sharing any AT&T customer location data with location aggregators and LBS providers.”

Sprint said shortly after the initial reports that it was in the “process of terminating its current contracts with data aggregators to whom we provide location data.” That process sure seems to have been a long one:

As of May 31, 2019, Sprint will no longer contract with any location aggregators to provide LBS. Sprint anticipates that after May 31. 2019, it may provide LBS services directly to customers like those described above [i.e. roadside assistance], but there are no firm plans at this time.

Verizon (the parent company of TechCrunch) managed to kill its contracts with all-purpose aggregators LocationSmart and Zumigo in November of 2018… except for a specific use case through the former to provide roadside assistance services during the winter. That agreement ended in March.

It’s taken some time, but the carriers seem to have finally followed through on shutting down the programs through which they resold customer location data. All took care to mention at some point the practical and helpful use cases of such programs, but failed to detail the apparent lack of oversight with which they were conducted. The responsibility to properly vet customers and collect mobile user consent seems to have been fully ceded to the resellers, who as last year’s reports showed, did nothing of the kind.

Location data is obviously valuable to consumers and many services can and should be able to request it — from those consumers. No one is arguing otherwise. But this important data was clearly being irresponsibly handled by the carriers, and it is probably right that the location aggregation business gets a hard stop and not a band-aid. We’ll likely see new businesses and arrangements appearing soon — but you can be sure that these too will require close monitoring to make sure the carriers don’t allow them to get out of hand… again.

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Samsung’s 5G phone hits Verizon, Sprint getting two 5G devices this month

Posted by | hardware, HTC, LG, Mobile, Samsung, smartphones, sprint, TC, Verizon | No Comments

With 5G, when it rains, it pours. A few hours after Verizon officially started selling the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, Sprint announced that it will be offering two 5G devices for its network by the end of the month.

For now, it still feels like manufacturers are putting the cart before the horse here. There’s little question that 5G will become ubiquitous in the next few years, but actual opportunities to access the technology are still pretty scarce.

Among U.S. carriers, Verizon (our parent company’s parent company) has been the most aggressive. Fitting then, that the company is first to market with the Galaxy S10 5G. Of course, all of these devices will default to 4G when there’s no 5G to be found, which is going to be the case more often than not for a while.

Verizon’s 5G is currently available in select markets, including Chicago and Minneapolis. That number is set to balloon to 20 locales before year’s end, including, Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dallas, Des Moines, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Little Rock, Memphis, Phoenix, Providence, San Diego, Salt Lake City and Washington, DC.

Sprint, meanwhile, has promised to flip on 5G in nine markets “in the coming weeks.” The list includes parts of Atlanta, Dallas, Houston and Kansas City, and then locations in Los Angeles, New York City, Phoenix and Washington, D.C.

To celebrate, the network will be offering two 5G devices this month. The LG V50 ThinQ and HTC 5G Hub will hit Sprint stores on May 31.

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