Dish linked with another telco buy

Dish Network has been linked with a possible move for TDS, which would give its mobile ambitions a significant boost.

Following the announcement earlier this week that Dish had agreed to buy mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) Republic Wireless – along with its 200,000 customers and Relay business unit – a Citi analyst posited the theory that TDS could be next in line.

Such a move would give Dish “immediate rural coverage, significant revenue and subscriber scale that can leverage the T-Mobile wholesale deal for national coverage (which could be cheaper than its current roaming arrangements), a healthy spectrum position in its markets, and additional assets that could held or be monetized (towers, minority wireless investments, TDS Fiber and Cable assets),” Citi noted, in a comment published by Seeking Alpha.

Whether there is anything of substance behind the comment or whether it is simply a theory is not wholly clear. However, the announcement did have an impact on TDS’s share price, albeit briefly; after a small peak the company’s stock has returned to its normal trading level.

In addition to the potentially monetisable assets listed above by Citi, TDS owns US Cellular, which is arguably the fourth largest mobile operator in the US, despite having fewer customers than Dish picked up through last year’s Boost Mobile acquisition. It ended 2020 with 4.97 million mobile subscribers and a coverage area of over 31 million people. Last year’s service revenue came in just north of 3 billion.

US regulator the FCC’s is firm in its desire to create a credible fourth player that is able to compete with AT&T, Verizon and the recently-enlarged T-Mobile, forcing the sell-off of prepaid business Boost as part of the Sprint/T-Mobile merger process, and as the acquirer of that asset Dish has effectively taken on the challenge to fulfil that role. But it is some way off achieving that goal.

Despite three acquisitions in under a year its subscriber base still hovers at just above the 9 million mark, with reported net subscriber losses in the last two quarters of 2020. It has also dragged its feet in rolling out mobile infrastructure, despite having paid well above $20 billion for spectrum over the past decade or so and having so many frequencies in its locker that it has been accused of spectrum hoarding.

However, its mobile ambitions seem to have kicked into gear now, following the Boost deal and an agreement with the FCC on the use of its various spectrum licences, and Dish is rolling out 5G infrastructure of its own.

It is not out of the question that it could seek to further increase its customer base through additional M&A activity, and if that were the case then TDS would certainly be a good bet. But it’s far from certain that TDS would be willing to sell at a price that would make sense for Dish.

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  • MVNOs North America

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