SoftBank Corp.’s Masayoshi Son said he wants to improve wireless connection speeds and lower monthly bills for U.S. customers as he pursues the acquisition of T- Mobile US Inc.
At SoftBank’s annual shareholders meeting Friday, the billionaire chairman said he wants to expand in the U.S. because its population growth and gross domestic product both exceed Japan’s. Son, whose company paid $22 billion for Sprint Corp. last year and is the largest investor in Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., said he believes the U.S. wireless industry is “one of the least satisfactory” in the world.
“I’m really determined to bring about better service at a lower price in the United States,” Son said. “We could inspire other carriers.”
Investors are focused on a potential bid by Sprint for T-Mobile because it would boost SoftBank’s growth prospects as competition for wireless subscribers in Japan intensifies. SoftBank, Japan’s third-largest carrier, faces slowing business as customers cut spending on voice services and shift to cheaper calling plans.
Mitsushige Akino, executive officer at Ichiyoshi Asset Management Co., said: “SoftBank must go to overseas for growth as Japan’s population is decreasing. In the U.S. market, it is vital to expand shares, and to do that the T-Mobile acquisition will be crucial.”
The number of subscribers departing SoftBank rose, and average revenue per user fell 2.2 percent to the lowest in at least eight quarters as the carrier sold more devices with cheaper plans and customers made fewer calls on its network, the company said in May.
“If you think of Japan, the mobile phone business is saturated,” said Edwin Merner, president of Atlantis Investment Research Corp. in Tokyo. “To keep going, they all have to discount, they have to offer more for less, and that means less profits.”
Sprint, which in April posted its 25th loss in 26 quarters, is spending $16 billion over two years upgrading its U.S. network in an effort to close the gap with market leaders Verizon Wireless and AT&T.
“Through the information industry we have brought changes to Japan,” Son said. “This is going to be the second stage.”
Sprint is nearing an agreement on the price, capital structure and termination fee for an acquisition of T-Mobile that could value the wireless carrier at almost $40 a share, people with knowledge of the matter have said. An agreement could be announced as soon as next month, they said.
Sprint has declined to comment on the speculation.
Deutsche Telekom AG, based in Bonn, Germany, owns about two-thirds of T-Mobile, and there are concerns by investors that Son may borrow too much money to complete the deal. The carrier has total debt of about 9.2 trillion yen, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
In response to one person’s expression of concern that the company is accumulating too much debt, Son said: “SoftBank will prioritize growth and take on more debt, as far as it is within our repayment capability.”