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Posted at 3:39 PM ET, 03/ 9/2011

Analysts weigh in on Sprint, T-Mobile merger

By Hayley Tsukayama

Rumors are flying about a possible merger between Sprint and T-Mobile after a report from Bloomberg that the third- and fourth- largest carriers in the nation had talked about an acquisition deal.

From a regulation standpoint, analysts think that a merger would raise fewer concerns than one might anticipate.

According to telecom analyst Jeffery Silva of Medley Global Advisors,Verizon and AT&T are so far ahead of Sprint and T-Mobile that government regulators and antitrust officials may decide the two smaller companies offer more competition together than apart. A report from Stifel-Nicolaus said that even with Democrats in control of the regulatory and antitrust bodies, the government would likely approve a merger to provide a counterweight to the top two companies. Both Sprint and T-Mobile have lost market share in the past year and one obstacle to a merger, Sprint’s spectrum rebanding, is steadily becoming less of a problem.

Still, the Stifel-Nicolaus report said merger approval is not a given — especially since Sprint acquired a majority stake in Clearwire, adding to the holdings of a theoretical new company. And, the report points out, the spectrum Sprint acquired in the Clearwire deal is likely what Deutsche Telecom wants most since it gives the company spectrum to expand its LTE service. While the analysis firm thinks these would not stop a merger, the government may decide to ask Sprint to divest some spectrum.

Of course, all this is dependent on whether or not a deal will even go through. After all, similar rumors surfaced this time last year about a merger between the two companies.

Chief among the difficulties for a full merger are the companies’ incompatible networks, said analyst James A Ratcliffe from Barclays. Ratcliffe says that it would be more practical for the companies to enter into a network sharing agreement. Robin Bienenstock, a senior analyst at Bernstein Research, wrote in a memo that T-Mobile USA parent Deutsche Telecom should be the senior partner in any merger or acquisition deal. Bienenstock also pointed out that the company’s official statement on the matter was far from an outright denial. According to Bernstein’s analysis, shareholders of the German company see this merger as a positive step.

Multiple analysts said the merger, if it happens, may have an unexpected consequence. Many said AT&T and Verizon would likely benefit — at least initially — from a merger between Sprint and T-Mobile. The confusion and unavoidable problems that come up during a merger may drive more customers. “The biggest winners here could be AT&T, Verizon, and Vodafone,” Bienenstock wrote.

By Hayley Tsukayama  | March 9, 2011; 3:39 PM ET
Categories:  Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile, telecom  
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