Jeff Kagan: Sprint Chairman on Ultra Fast Internet and T-Mobile Merger

Jeff Kagan  |

Masayoshi Son was not on anyone’s radar a year ago, but he is punching his way onto the US wireless map these days.

He is the new Chairman of wireless carrier Sprint (S) . Son was on CNBC the morning of March 11 talking with reporter David Faber, and had some very eye opening and industry reshaping things to say.

Son says wireless Internet speeds are too slow and too expensive. He says he wants to change that in the USA. He says other countries are faster and less expensive and wonders why this is not the case here as well. He has a plan to remedy this situation.

Son is head of Softbank, a very large and successful wireless and technology company in Japan. Softbank acquired 80 percent of Sprint last summer. Now he is Sprint chairman and Dan Hesse is Sprint CEO. Son flies to the US on a regular basis and meets with Hesse and other execs and plan their strategy.

First Hesse says they are ripping out every last piece of equipment on the Sprint wireless network and replacing it with brand new technology that can handle much faster speeds and much more innovation. This will take a few more years to compete, but they are moving very rapidly.

Next, Son wants to merge with T-Mobile (TMUS) . US regulators are not so excited about this idea. They already said no to AT&T (T) a few years ago. What will they say to Sprint?

The question is simple. Will the US marketplace remain with four top competitors, AT&T, Verizon (VZ) ,Sprint and T-Mobile, or will he make his case and we will have three major competitors?

There are good points on both sides. I guess it’s a matter of which way the US regulators want the wireless industry to develop going forward. And even if the answer is no today, Softbank could still win T-Mobile under another government administration a few years from now. So either way this is not a short story.

This is the case Masayoshi Son is making to the American people. Of course the American people don’t vote one way or the other. That’s the job of regulators like the DoJ and the FCC. However Son wants T Mobile and is willing to take his story to the people of this country and try and win support.

The more I see Masayoshi Son, the more I like him. He may be the wealthiest man in Japan, but he also has what it takes to shake things up in the US wireless industry. Whether he can persuade US regulators is another question. We’ll see.

One example he discussed on March 11 was how in other countries the wireless Internet speeds are getting faster and price is falling. This is the typical technology path by the way. The longer something is in the market, the better and faster and cheaper it typically gets.

Son says it does not work that way with wireless Internet in the USA. Here our Internet speeds are still slow and prices continue to rise compared with the rest of the world. He says in the US market the price keeps going up.

When we say Internet, it’s important to realize there is more than one kind. There is the wire line Internet from the phone company or cable television company, and there is the wireless Internet provided by wireless carriers. Son is talking about the wireless Internet where speeds are slower and more expensive than wire line.

However, with or without Son I would say that this whole space is beginning to change. Example, ultra high-speed wire line Internet is starting to expand around the country. We see large and small companies stepping into this new space.

Wireless carrier C Spire is building and will roll out ultra fast, wire line Internet in cities throughout Mississippi. This is very interesting, a wireless carrier moving into a wire line space.

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Ultra high-speed moves from a growing list of companies like AT&T and Google is very exciting. And we are still on the very early steps of this very fast new world.

Masayoshi Son and Sprint want to be part of this world. They want to drive it. They want to bring this ultra fast Internet to the wireless world as well. He says in the USA, wireless Internet speeds are in the 5 – 10 megabits per second. Landline broadband is 20 – 30 mbps.

He then says they would like to provide up to 200 mbps speeds. That’s the target they have. He did not mention price, but either way that’s pretty impressive.

He says in Japan they already have 20 – 60 mbps and they are testing in Tokyo a speed of 700 mbps on the street. He says nationwide coverage at this speed will take several years.

So one way or another, tomorrow will be very fast indeed because as I mentioned above, we already see competitors jumping into this same area on the wire line side.

Son says he is throwing a stone into the pond. The wake-up call. Will he be successful? Who knows. We’ll just have to wait and see. But tomorrow seems very exciting indeed. Stay tuned.

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