The T-Mobile-Sprint merger is closer to finalization than ever, but is still not a done deal. And already, search engine giant Google is looking to secure an independent wireless network through a partnership with spectrum and carrier-acquiring company Dish Network.
Former Ford Motor Chief Executive and Alphabet Director Alan Mulally has been in talks with Dish about how it can come alongside Dish and help create a strong 4th carrier. Since Dish would acquire Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile, and be able to lease T-Mobile spectrum for 6-7 years, Google could see a partnership between itself and Dish create an independent wireless network that would free Google from leasing through T-Mobile and Sprint.
Currently, Google's Fi network is a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) that "piggybacks" on T-Mobile, Sprint, and US Cellular's networks.
A source close to Mulally says that "there's no question they are talking," though a Google spokesman has denied the claim. "These claims are simply false. Google is not having any conversations with Dish about creating a wireless network."
Complicating the process at the moment is that the T-Mobile/Sprint merger isn't finalized. T-Mobile's decision in 2018 to buy Softbank majority-owned Sprint has been met with a great deal of opposition with both the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Department of Justice (DoJ).
At first, T-Mobile made concessions such as keeping prices at the same current levels for three years post-merger (in spite of the 5G network rollout) and creating thousands of new jobs with the merger, in contrast to the decisions of many merging companies to ax jobs.
Now, though, it appears as though T-Mobile has to do more than just create jobs and roll out 5G to rural areas: it now has to give up Sprint MVNOs Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile, as well as Sprint brand Sprint Prepaid, not to mention it has to lease its network to Dish for 6-7 years and help prepaid customers transition over to Dish for their wireless service for at least 3 years.
With T-Mobile divesting of these assets to Dish (and aware of Dish and Google talks), the Deutsche Telekom-owned carrier has asked Dish to sell no more than 5% of its stake in the newly-acquired assets. Apparently, T-Mobile doesn't want to sell to Google because a giant like Google could grow a wireless carrier without much effort.
Also, T-Mobile is trying to solidify its place as the third US carrier while competing with top-ranked Verizon Wireless and second-ranked AT&T. Google's partnership with Dish could jeopardize that in more ways than one.
Perhaps Google sees a win in this with not only an independent wireless network but also the chance to gain a large customer base. T-Mobile, once shunning 5G broadband as "not really 5G" has started to push the spread of broadband and wireless for customers, seeing the stance of the FCC change.
The T-Mobile-Sprint merger now has FCC approval but the DoJ will prove to be the most difficult of them all. The concessions of Boost and Virgin Mobile have come at the request of the DoJ in order to see a fourth carrier take the place of Sprint.
Boost and Virgin Mobile alone aren't enough (unless the DoJ expects the fourth carrier to be prepaid), but with Google's help, perhaps Dish billionaire Charlie Ergen may find the cash flow he needs to make the most of the newly-acquired wireless spectrum.
Google's Fi network is an affordable experience where customers pay $20 a month for unlimited calls and texts and $10 per GB of LTE data. Once customers reach 6GB of data use on a single line, they're given Google's new Bill Protection, which means that they won't be billed for up to 15GB.
Google gives customers an extra 9GB of LTE after their consumed 6GBs for free. After the customer line reaches 15GB, the $10 per GB LTE price resumes.
Fi runs on three carriers, but it is dependent on leasing agreements made with T-Mo and Sprint back in 2015 and is not an independent carrier. It was said some years ago that Google wanted to start its own carrier service, but from current talks with Dish, Google Fi isn't all of the search engine giant's wireless dream.
T-Mobile and Sprint are still fighting off the states Attorneys General and individual states that want to see the $26.5 billion merger declined. The court case has yet to commence, with opponents insisting that the new merger will remove competition and see prices rise for customers.
Google's ultimate reason for its interest in Dish's new acquisition package is data, customer data. Earlier this year, it was reported that Google knew the four top US carriers (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint) were sharing customer location data for pay but asked carriers not to share Fi customer data.