I’ve long been a skeptic about Sprint and T-Mobile merging, mostly because Sprint mergers have been the kisses of death for once-promising wireless carriers such as Virgin Mobile and Nextel. However, looking at the comprehensive study of U.S. wireless carriers released by RootMetrics this week, one thing has become painfully clear: Neither Sprint nor T-Mobile has the network to compete with either Verizon or AT&T over the long haul.
What’s really amazing about the study is that it shows Verizon and AT&T are very close together when it comes to overall network quality while Sprint and T-Mobile are way, way, way behind. While Verizon and AT&T typically scored above 85 out of 100 on RootMetrics’ scores for data speeds, call quality and network reliability, Sprint and T-Mobile both typically scored more than 20 points behind in each metric.
It would be easy to write this off as “just one study,” except we have lots and lots of other studies that similarly show us that Sprint and T-Mobile have flat-out inferior networks compared America’s biggest two carriers. This is why SoftBank CEO and Sprint chairman Masayoshi Son has been so insistent that he needs to merge with T-Mobile if he ever hopes to have a chance at competing with Verizon and AT&T — at the end of the day he knows that all of the terrific “Uncarrier” plans in the world won’t make much of a long-term difference if your network quality is terrible compared with your rivals’.
So does this mean a Sprint-T-Mobile merger has my support? Well, no. And the big reason that I still can’t support it is that I just don’t trust Sprint to make a quality network even after it’s merged with T-Mobile. Sprint’s network has been persistently behind its rivals’ even though it has a ton of spectrum to work with. I know it isn’t the coveted contiguous spectrum that Verizon and AT&T have both gobbled up in recent FCC auctions but there should still be enough there to build a 4G network that is at least faster than T-Mobile’s since the “Uncarrier” faces similar challenges with its own spectrum holdings.
If Sprint were to, say, spend the next year or two improving its network as much as it could while taking T-Mobile-style steps to aggressively challenge the incumbent carriers then I’d be much more sympathetic to its bid to acquire the Pride of John Legere. As for now, though, I still can’t say that letting Sprint merge with T-Mobile would be a good idea, even though I’m a lot more open to it than I was a few weeks ago.