T-Mobile wanted to merge with Dish back in 2015, T-Mobile CEO John Legere told a federal court yesterday, but Dish shot the deal down over concerns that T-Mobile would “disintegrate.” The details, reported by CNET, confirm stories from 2015 about a potential tie-up between the two companies and explains why the deal never came to be. A merger would have given T-Mobile access to a trove of valuable spectrum that Dish has long held on to, but not yet put to use, along with a satellite TV business.
Legere was in court testifying as part of a lawsuit brought by multiple state attorneys general who are attempting to block T-Mobile’s merger with Sprint. Lawyers for the attorneys general asked Legere why T-Mobile had to merge with Sprint, a direct rival, as opposed to Dish, which does not currently offer cell service, according to CNET. Legere reportedly said that he had recommended that idea to T-Mobile’s board in 2015, with the goal of “un-carriering” Dish’s TV business, only to be shot down by Dish.
Dish has now agreed to compete with T-Mobile by purchasing Sprint assets
For T-Mobile, there would have been major upsides to the deal. Dish has a large swath of spectrum “roughly the size of Verizon’s” that could be used for LTE, Legere is reported as saying. T-Mobile would end up paying $8 billion to acquire similar spectrum two years later in an attempt to put its network on par with AT&T and Verizon. Dish’s TV business also would have allowed T-Mobile to diversify and lock in subscribers, much in the way that AT&T and Verizon both offer TV service.
But Dish co-founder Charlie Ergen feared T-Mobile’s stock was going to drop, falling to $20 from the $25 it was at during the time of discussions, devaluing the acquisition, according to CNET. T-Mobile is currently trading at around $75 per share.
The deal fell apart, and Dish stayed out of the wireless market. At least, it has until now: the company has agreed to purchase Boost Mobile, Virgin Mobile, and more from Sprint should be merger be approved. The Department of Justice required those assets to be divested, as well as for agreements to be put in place letting Dish piggyback on T-Mobile’s network for a while as part of an agreement to approve the merger.
The merger’s final hurdle is this trial. Attorneys general from 14 states and the District of Columbia are suing to block the deal over concerns that it would limit competition in the wireless industry. If the merger is approved, Sprint will disappear, and Dish is supposed to attempt to take its place as a major wireless competitor. If the merger is blocked, Dish would have to find a new plan to break into the business.
Back in 2017, Legere predicted that Dish’s end as an independent company was near. “I’d like to officially declare that Dish will die this year,” he said. “By the end of 2017, Dish will not be a standalone entity.” Clearly, eyes are on Dish’s spectrum holdings. The question is: which company — Dish or some acquirer — will end up using them?