Top executives at T-Mobile seem fully aware of the uphill battle the carrier faces against dominant foes Verizon, AT&T, and to a lesser degree Sprint. In a meeting with shareholders, Chief Operating Officer Jim Alling made it sound as though he wouldn't be the least bit surprised if the number of major US carriers eventually dwindles down to three in the years ahead. “I think that is possible, and likely in the longer term," he said. Alling didn't specify whether T-Mobile or Sprint would be the surviving third carrier, though it stands to reason he would assume a favorable outcome for his own company.
Of course a similar situation could have arisen much sooner if AT&T and T-Mobile had gotten their way last year. AT&T's bid to absorb T-Mobile was famously halted by the FCC over anticompetitive concerns, eventually leading Ma Bell to abandon the idea altogether. Yet T-Mobile has quickly found itself back in the merger game as the number-four carrier looks to form a joint company with MetroPCS and scrap away at a massive lead in subscribers (and revenue) enjoyed by both AT&T and Verizon Wireless. For its part, Sprint seemingly has no intention of waving the white flag anytime soon: if anything, a planned acquisition by SoftBank could rejuvenate the carrier in the coming years. Many believe a thinning of the US wireless industry is inevitable, but it doesn't appear we'll be seeing such a scenario play out in the immediate future.