Mobile carrier T-Mobile announced today that it's officially completed a merger with Sprint. The deal, which was announced in 2018, means that the previously third and fourth largest wireless companies in the United States have now become the third — rivaling AT&T and Verizon. The new company, just called T-Mobile, is hoping to use its new pool of resources to expand its 5G capabilities, aiming to provide faster internet speeds to 99% of the population within the next six years.
The deal had to clear multiple legal hurdles to prove it wouldn't stifle competition — a number of states as well as consumer advocates worried that the consolidation of the industry would lead to higher prices. Last summer, the Department of Justice gave its go-ahead, as did the U.S. Federal Communications Commission in the fall. In February, after attorneys general of multiple states brought a case to district court, Judge Victor Marrero concluded that Sprint wasn't likely to survive as a major competitor, anyway.
There's also a change in leadership at T-Mobile. CEO John Legere has stepped down, with COO Mike Sievert taking over. Asked by CNBC whether the coronavirus pandemic would slow down the company's aggressive 5G plans, Sievert said they've been classified as essential, and can continue operating "We've determined from a network standpoint we can do that safely," Sievert said.
"Individual crews of one person, sometimes it's three, four, five people that arrive in separate cars and work at a safe difference from each other. Other than some issues around permitting, we don't see a slowdown in our ability to bring this network to scale."
As a part of T-Mobile's merger, the company agreed to help establish satellite TV company Dish Network as a fourth major wireless company. While most Sprint customers are moving to T-Mobile plans, Sprint's prepaid customers will be shifted over to Dish.
In announcing the deal, T-Mobile also reiterated a previous promise it made to the FCC to offer "the same or better rate plans" for three years — the amount of time it will take to build its 5G network. Critics have called that promise "unenforceable." And, as FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel noted in a dissenting opinion, there's nothing to stop the company from raising prices after the three years are up.