Mirroring Canada’s Market? Carrier Outlines S/TMO Merger Risks

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UPDATE Yesterday, we reported that companies that want to get into the wireless industry such as Dish, Altice and C-Spire as well as rural groups such as the Rural Wireless Association oppose the proposed merger of T-Mobile and Sprint. Roaming partner NE Colorado Cellular told the FCC it supports the transaction, as do various vendors or customers of both carriers.

Inside Towers was later contacted by a supporter — Ting Mobile, owned by Tucows in Toronto. Ting is a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) that operates on both T-Mobile and Sprint networks, and wanted to point out its unique perspective. CEO Elliot Noss tells the FCC that Ting generally supports the deal, believing, “it makes excellent business sense “with the preservation of the appropriate competitive elements” the MVNO space provides.

However, failure to ensure the health of the MVNO sector “creates the real risk of the U.S. mobile phone market looking like Canada’s market, with three oligopolistic competitors moving price in lockstep and combining to leave Canadians with the most expensive mobile phone service in the world,” Noss writes.

Ting calls T-Mobile and Sprint the “two most active suppliers” in the MVNO space, adding that Verizon and AT&T are in it too, but not to the same extent. “An important first step for regulators in the very short term is to require long runoff periods wherein existing MVNO suppliers allow an MVNO to maintain their current pricing, independent of volume commitments, for a time period sufficient to migrate to another supplier. Otherwise, the lock-in and relative power of the network supplier is overwhelming.”

He discusses eSIM technology too, SIM cards that allow for connecting to multiple networks. Google Fi is using this technology with both Sprint and T-Mobile, according to Noss. Ting and “hundreds” of other MVNOs are not, but would like too. He urges the FCC to require the combined entity to allow MVNOs to use SIMs “without restrictions on what networks they connected to.” That would go a long way towards enabling sufficient competition to protect the market short-term, he believes. Longer term, such protections would not be needed, as Ting predicts eSIM technology will proliferate in the 2020-2021 timeframe.

August 31, 2018