Softbank wins and so might the broad US mobile industry

Jun 26, 2013

In the end the shareholders of Sprint Nextel voted overwhelmingly to approve the bid to acquire a controlling 78 per cent stake in their company for US$21.6 billion. The transaction is expected to close on July 9th.

One of the important factors behind SoftBank's eventual victory was a deal structured to inject extra capital into what is now its US operation. US$5 billion of the $21.6 billion will be put to work on network upgrades and, in the words of ongoing Sprint Nextel CEO Dan Hesse, in enhancing "Sprint's long-term value and competitive position by creating a company with greater financial flexibility."

Another way of saying that Sprint Nextel now has a bit of a war chest it can use to transform its competitive position in a market increasingly dominated by Verizon and AT&T.

Make no mistake, SoftBank is no foreign sugar-daddy come to provide some extra working capital - perhaps it's the 'bank' in the name that seems to have thrown some commentators off the scent.

It's no 'normal' - slow-moving and overly cautious - Japanese giant either. Its charismatic CEO, Masayoshi Son, has a back-story that makes your common or garden Gates/Jobs IT entrepreneur look like a bit of a whimp.

Mr Son is actually Korean, educated in the US, and is a serial inventor and entrepreneur. He is supposed to have lost more money than anyone in history (US$70 billion in the dotcom crash) but is now the second richest man in Japan.

He's been an inventor (selling one patent to Sharp for $1 million) amongst other things, but his breakthrough on this leg of the Son roller-coaster was to buy Vodafone Japan in 2006.

Note that he managed to transform the slow-failing operator in just a couple of years. By 2008 he had turned it around with an innovative data services strategy.

Is he likely to sit back and just do a little more network investment for Sprint? I don't think so. The high-priced US mobile market might just be about to get the data challenger it deserves.

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