Masayoshi Son, the billionaire chief of SoftBank, in his first
public speech to a U.S. audience since his company gained control of
Sprint last year, lambasted the U.S. wireless market as offering
Son did not directly speak about his efforts to engineer a merger of
Sprint and T-Mobile US Inc, the No. 3 and No. 4 U.S. wireless
carriers, but told reporters he hoped to meet again sometime with
U.S. regulators, who so far have given a cold shoulder to such a
He made a pitch for Sprint to not only challenge its traditional
wireless competitors -- No. 1 player Verizon Communications Inc and
No. 2 AT&T Inc -- but also wireline Internet providers such as
"I brought the network war and price war (to Japan). I'd like to
bring that to the States," Son told an audience of industry
officials at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
"I would like to provide an alternative to the oligopolistic
situation that two-thirds of American households can only get access
to one or two providers. I'd like to be a third alternative with 10
times the speed and lower price."
Son said Sprint has the same type of radio frequencies that helped
SoftBank compete in Japan and SoftBank has technologies that could
boost speeds and lower prices, but his companies needed more towers
and other support to properly challenge the biggest Internet
"We have the spectrum. We have the technology. But we need scale,
efficiency to make an investment for the network," Son told
reporters after his speech.
"We are already free cash-flow negative. So we can start a small
fight but it does not scale, it does not last, it's not sustainable.
We need to have a real fight, a long and deep and heavy fight. And
for that, we need scale."
Both the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Tom
Wheeler, and U.S. antitrust chief William Baer expressed skepticism
about a merger of Sprint and T-Mobile after Son's round of meetings
in Washington in February.
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SoftBank is now focused on convincing the parties involved with the
merits of a merger, a senior company executive said, adding that any
moves toward pursuing a deal were now on hold. The official declined
to be named because he was not authorized to speak about the matter
Son, who once threatened to set himself on fire as he pushed
Japanese regulators to let him set up a high-speed Internet service,
has shown he does not give up easily. He said he wasn't planning on
new meetings with U.S. regulators during this trip, "but whenever we
have the opportunity sometime in the future, that is I think
Son has repeatedly expressed his desire to make SoftBank the biggest
mobile-related corporation in the world, and in the past has harshly
criticized U.S. mobile networks and the degree of competition in the
The potential for the deal and Son's criticisms have given an edge
to the dynamic among top wireless executives.
"If Mr. Son is having a bad experience with US wireless, it must be
because he's using Sprint," Jim Cicconi, AT&T's senior executive
vice president for external and legislative affairs, said jokingly
in an emailed statement.
Even T-Mobile's CEO, John Legere, an avid user of social media site
Twitter, quipped last week, "Remember when people actually liked
@sprint? Yeah, me either. #SprintLikeHell"
(Reporting by Alina Selyukh in
Washington; additional reporting by Sophie Knight and Yoshiyasu
Shida in Tokyo; editing by Leslie Adler)
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