SoftBank Debating The Fate Of Sprint's 2.5GHz Holdings

Sprint's massive amount of open 2.5GHz spectrum left over from their iDEN and WiMAX days could be put to a large number of incredibly valuable uses, but because of Sprint's financial position and the sheer number of options available, Sprint and their parent company, SoftBank, are reportedly having a bit of a hard time deciding just what to do with the spectrum. In most cases, the obvious answer would be to use it in small cell 5G expansion, but one of the major stumbling blocks to that strategy is the fact that Sprint simply lacks the cash. As such, more roundabout options are being given consideration, and some bode better for Sprint than others.

Aside from the expansion option, reports say that SoftBank is considering selling the spectrum, or leveraging it through a merger with an entity that has the cash to use it to its potential. Some of the usual names are getting thrown around in this respect, such as T-Mobile, but Sprint is reportedly also considering tie-ups with cable entities hungry for a piece of the wireless pie. Not everybody may be open to a merger, however, including U.S. regulators. Because of that, Sprint and SoftBank are also considering simply selling some or all of the spectrum. While that would put them at a disadvantage when it comes time to start building out a real 5G network, it would help to balance their books and bring their wild finances to heel.

Using the 2.5 GHz spectrum to build out for LTE or 5G networks is on the table, but it's a hard pill to swallow, with Sprint's circumstances as they are. Low cash reserves and a relatively low user count for their segment mean that every penny spent has to be statistically justified. Even with spectrum in hand, setting up any kind of network buildout takes time and money, neither of which Sprint has right now. They have billions in debt to compete with, and are already in the midst of a large-scale scheme to sell off and lease back a good portion of their own network equipment in order to help pay it off. To make matters worse, the deadlines associated with that debt fall within the next few years, which means that they can't just use what cash they have on hand to build out for 5G, then reap the profits to pay back their creditors. Analysts have voiced their own concerns in this vein, saying that a network expansion using the vaunted spectrum would likely be the best thing for Sprint in the long game, but they probably just don't have the money to throw around.

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