Like a tweetstorm from President Trump, reports of what Sprint’s future may—or may not—hold are emerging on a nearly daily basis. And Charter Communications may have just walked away from the table.
The Wall Street Journal reported late Friday that Sprint had proposed a merger with Charter Communications that would grant control of the combined companies to Masayoshi Son, chairman of Sprint parent company SoftBank. But Charter appeared to throw cold water on that report late Sunday—if not necessarily dousing it entirely—saying it still plans to pursue its existing MVNO agreement with Verizon.
“We understand why a deal is attractive for SoftBank, but Charter has no interest in acquiring Sprint,” the company told FierceWireless via email. “We have a very good MVNO relationship with Verizon and intend to launch wireless services to cable customers next year.”
The cable company offered no further comment, declining to say whether it might consider a merger or some other kind of arrangement with Sprint. The Wall Street Journal was the first to reportCharter’s disinterest in acquiring the nation’s No. 4 wireless carrier.
The window closed just a few days ago on Sprint’s exclusive two-month deal to hold discussions with both Charter and Comcast focusing on potential partnership arrangements. Reports indicated that negotiations between the three companies had continued even after that window closed, though, and that one potential arrangement could see the cable companies take an equity stake in Sprint, investing in the carrier’s network to help increase coverage and capacity in advance of 5G.
Charter and Comcast announced an alliance in May as they plotted their strategies for joining the mobile market.
A tie-up between Sprint and T-Mobile has long been rumored, of course—SoftBank had hoped to acquire T-Mobile and combine it with Sprint a few years ago before facing pushback from federal regulators—but partnering with a cable company or two might make more sense for the wireless network operator. Simply consolidating the number of major U.S. wireless operators might not gain regulatory approval, while the arrival of a new entrant or two likely wouldn’t garner much scrutiny. And Sprint may not have to cede nearly as much control as it might under terms of a deal with T-Mobile, which has enjoyed significant traction over the last few years.
Additionally, Sprint—which will face significant financial challenges over the next few years as billions of dollars in debt comes due—could pour a cash injection from Comcast and Charter into its 2.5 GHz network build-out. And the mobile network operator could leverage Comcast and Charter’s extensive wireline networks and Wi-Fi hotspots to more quickly build out its 2.5 GHz holdings and more cheaply backhaul its mobile network traffic.
But the latest news also follows comments from Comcast CEO Brian Roberts indicating his company isn’t all that interested in making a huge move into mobile either.
“No disrespect to wireless, but that’s a tough business,” Roberts said on Comcast’s second-quarter earnings call Thursday. “We like what we’re doing with Xfinity Mobile. It really improves what we hope it will improve. It will be a long road, and I don’t see anything in the industry where we envy a position we don’t have today. I think we have a really special company, and I wouldn’t want to do anything to change that.”
If the two cable companies truly aren’t interested in Sprint, the looming questions are what kind of options remain in play for the wireless company, and how much leverage it may have in striking a deal. Sprint is scheduled to announce its second-quarter earnings Tuesday morning.