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Posted at 03:31 PM ET, 03/09/2011

Analysts weigh in on Sprint, T-Mobile merger

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 Jeffrey 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 that the latter two 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 probably 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 probably what T-Mobile’s U.S. parent, Deutsche Telekom, wants most since it gives it spectrum to expand its LTE service. While the analysis firm thinks this would not stop a merger, the government may decide to ask Sprint to divest some spectrum.

It is also worth remembering that 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, of U.S. Telecom. 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 Deutsche Telekom 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 that 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  |  03:31 PM ET, 03/09/2011

Tags:  sprint, t-mobile

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