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SoftBank says T-Mobile is Plan B if it fails to acquire Sprint

Updated: 2013-06-14T21:59:31Z

Staff and news services

SoftBank Corp. chief executive Masayoshi Son said he sees T-Mobile as a “Plan B” acquisition target if he fails to acquire Overland Park-based Sprint Nextel.

“I plan to go with Plan A if possible,” Son told Bloomberg News on Friday in Tokyo, referring to the company’s October agreement to buy Sprint.

Analysts have been speculating over the past week that T-Mobile would be a likely fallback for SoftBank should the Sprint deal come to an unsuccessful end, but Son hadn’t addressed the issue until Friday.

SoftBank increased its bid for Sprint to $21.6 billion this week, aiming to ward off a counteroffer from Dish Network Corp.

Son said he doesn’t have any concern about SoftBank’s ability to finance the deal.

Son is counting on Sprint, the third largest U.S. wireless carrier, to jump-start his international expansion. To do that, he will have to get past fellow billionaire Charlie Ergen, the chairman and co-founder of Dish. Ergen wants to use Sprint to vault his satellite TV company into mobile phone services.

“I am determined to be No. 1 in the world very soon in my industry,” Son said in a speech Friday. “You are lucky not to be my competitor.”

The power struggle between the two billionaires extends to a bidding war for Clearwire Corp., the money-losing high-speed wireless network jointly owned by Sprint. Dish has offered $4.40 a share for Clearwire, topping a Sprint bid of $3.40. Clearwire endorsed Dish’s deal this week, dealing a blow to SoftBank, which sees a unified Sprint and Clearwire as part of its U.S. expansion plan.

Though Sprint owns nearly a majority of Clearwire, it needs full ownership to take control of the business’ valuable spectrum — airwaves that could be used to bolster Sprint’s network.

If SoftBank pursued T-Mobile, which is majority-owned by Deutsche Telekom AG, SoftBank would be getting a smaller carrier. It ranks fourth in the U.S. market, behind Verizon Wireless, AT&T and Sprint. T-Mobile has a market value of $16.6 billion, compared with more than $22 billion for Sprint.

Ergen also has expressed interest in T-Mobile, people close to the situation said earlier this year. He informally approached Deutsche Telekom about a possible deal with the carrier sometime before April 10, before T-Mobile merged with MetroPCS Communications Inc. Andreas Leigers, a Deutsche Telekom spokesman, didn’t have an immediate comment on Son’s remarks.

When Deutsche Telekom agreed to combine T-Mobile with MetroPCS, the German company pledged not to sell shares of T-Mobile on the stock market for 18 months. Still, it is allowed to sell its 74 percent stake all at once to a third party, Deutsche Telekom chief financial officer Timotheus Hoettges told investors in May.

“We are in a position to sell all shares in one go,” Hoettges said.

Sprint shares closed Friday unchanged at $7.32.

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