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T-Mobile and Sprint convince Colorado to cross the picket line

The coalition of lawyers fighting against the $26 billion T-Mobile US and Sprint merger has gotten a little bit weaker with Colorado dropping out of the resistance movement.

After the Attorney General for Mississippi secured concessions from the duo, the same has been achieved by Phil Weiser, the Colorado Attorney General. It might be the long-way around, but it does appear T-Mobile US and Sprint are turning some heads with individual, state-level deals.

“The State of Colorado joined a multistate lawsuit to block the T-Mobile-Sprint merger because of concerns about how the merger would affect Coloradans,” said Chief Deputy Attorney General Natalie Hanlon Leh.

“The agreements we are announcing today address those concerns by guaranteeing jobs in Colorado, a state-wide buildout of a fast 5G network that will especially benefit rural communities, and low-cost mobile plans.”

The guarantees are somewhat ambitious. New T-Mobile, how the merged entity is currently being referred to, has promised to deliver 5G with minimum download speeds of 100 Mbps to 68% of the state’s population within three years, and within six years, this coverage will have to increase to 92% of the population.

On the rural side, 60% of Colorado’s rural population will have to have access to 5G download speeds of 100 Mbps within three years of the completion of the transaction, increasing to 74% within six years.

New T-Mobile will also offer new tariffs at lower prices. Should the company fail to meet these commitments it will face $80 million in penalties.

In meeting these concessions, New T-Mobile might face some challenges. Colorado is the eighth largest state in the US at 269,837 km² (the UK is 242,495 km²), with some pretty mountainous landscapes. That said, the population does seem to help these coverage commitments.

Colorado has a population of roughly 5.6 million people, of which 4.89 million live in urban locations. The state has 196 towns and 73 cities, with the five biggest accounting for roughly 1.6 million people (23% of total). Should New T-Mobile cover the ten largest cities with 5G within three years, it would have achieved roughly 38% population coverage, more than half of the commitment made to the State.

With Colorado being a highly urbanised population, only 13% are described as living in rural environment according to Rural Health Info, the equation does not look quite as daunting. Another element to consider is the spectrum assets which will be owned by New T-Mobile.

Although it has been toying with the high-speed mmWave spectrum bands, New T-Mobile will have the benefits of the 600 MHz spectrum offering greater range for meeting the concessions. This will not deliver the eye watering speed which has been promised in perfect scenarios for 5G, though it will aid the demands of network densification. During a trial in January, T-Mobile US claimed a 5G call over 600 MHz could reach 1000 square miles from a single cell site.

Interestingly enough, the merger will also offer access to valuable mid-band spectrum which Sprint has been boasting about for years. Sprint is currently hording licences for the valuable 2.5 GHz band, very similar to the mid-band spectrum airwaves which are being championed in Europe because of the more palatable compromise between speed and coverage. Combining these assets with the mmWave trials puts New T-Mobile in a pretty attractive position.

Alongside the conditions placed on New T-Mobile, Dish will also face its own demands following the completion of the $5 billion acquisition of Sprint’s prepaid brand to maintain competition levels across the country. Dish will have to maintain the HQ in Colorado for at least seven years, hire an additional 2,000 people to work on the wireless business and Colorado will have to be one of the first 10 states Dish launches 5G in. Failure to meet these conditions will result in $20 million in fines.

The win in Colorado is a significant one for New T-Mobile and adds to the momentum gained in Mississippi. In this southern state, New T-Mobile will have to deploy a 5G networ with at least 62% of the population experiencing download speeds of at least 100 Mbps. These numbers increase to 88% within six years of the completion of the merger, though 88% of the rural population will also have to be upgraded to 5G by this time also.

Although this is not the end of the lawsuit led by the New York Attorney General, Letitia James to block the merger on competition grounds, it adds a dent to momentum.

The prospect of tackling James and a herd of 16 Attorney Generals might have seemed like a daunting one, but the divide and conquer strategy seems to be working well here. If the T-Mobile US and Sprint lawyers can convince a few more into ditching the lawsuit, the threat looks significantly lessened.

While there are some states where applying the same conditions as have been negotiated in Colorado and Mississippi would be incredibly difficult, the lawyers don’t have to worry about them. Chipping away at the states where 5G deployment might be a simpler task would certainly lessen the threat being posed by the coalition. There only needs to be another three or four convinced to cross the picket-line and the support for the merger starts to look much more substantial.

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