The future of 5G: What's next after the Sprint-T-Mobile merger

Byers Market is a daily newsletter from NBC News senior media reporter Dylan Byers that takes you behind the scenes in Hollywood, Silicon Valley, New York and Washington.
Image: Pedestrians walk past a Sprint store in Washington, D.C., in 2014.
Pedestrians walk past a Sprint store in Washington, D.C., in 2014.Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

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By Dylan Byers

Good morning. 🇺🇸🇨🇳 Steven Mnuchin and Robert Lighthizer are en route to Shanghai to resume trade talks with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He. Tech leaders are watching to see if and how the U.S. relaxes its ban on Huawei.

Meanwhile, in Washington: "China hawks in Congress and elsewhere stand ready to denounce Mr. Trump for any effort toward Huawei that could be seen as appeasement," per WSJ.

Join the Market.


Tim Höttges wins Sprint deal

Moving the Market: Deutsche Telekom chief Tim Höttges is on the cusp of combining Sprint with his T-Mobile unit and creating a top-tier U.S. wireless player with more than 90 million subscribers and nearly as much market share as industry leaders Verizon and AT&T.

• The Justice Department approved the $26 billion T-Mobile-Sprint merger on Friday on the condition that Sprint sells its prepaid wireless business to Dish Network, which would then become a very minor fourth player.

• The deal is a "crowning victory" for Höttges and will give Deutsche Telekom "a stronger vehicle to expand in the profitable U.S. market and test new technologies such as 5G," Bloomberg's Stefan Nicola writes.

• It is also a victory for Masa Son and Softbank, which bought Sprint six years ago for $20 billion but was never able to make it compete with AT&T and Verizon in the U.S.

The big picture: A T-Mobile-Sprint merger will shake up the telecom industry just as Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile are all in fierce competition to deliver fifth-generation wireless service to subscribers.

• T-Mobile chief John Legere has said that the "New T-Mobile" will deliver 5G to 97 percent of the population within three years and 99 percent within six years.

• That would put added pressure on Verizon and AT&T to focus more intensely on their own 5G efforts.

On the consumer side, there is ample concern that having just three wireless networks will result in higher prices for consumers. That is why Justice Department antitrust chief Makan Delrahim forced Sprint to sell to Dish.

• Dish, a satellite-television company, will now get nine million prepaid wireless customers from Sprint, as well as additional spectrum.

• Dish will also be required to build a 5G network for subscribers, with a seven-year cushion during which it can operate on T-Mobile's service.

• Critics are reasonably skeptical about Dish's ability to create and operate a 5G network, especially given the struggles it has had with its core business.

What's next: Fourteen state attorneys general have sued to block the merger on the grounds that it reduces competition, despite the Dish divestiture. That is the last hurdle on Legere's path toward a "New T-Mobile."

• Until then, NYT's Brian Chen explains what the deal could potentially mean for consumers: "Higher prices, improved service and faster deployment of 5G network technology."


Charlie Ergen goes all in

Talk of telecom: Dish Network chairman Charlie Ergen — "a former professional poker player and card-counting blackjack whiz" — is poised to become a wireless player after picking up 9 million Sprint customers from the T-Mobile deal, WSJ's Drew Fitzgerald reports.

The big picture: "Ergen has long tried to muscle his way into the U.S. wireless business... by spending more than $20 billion amassing wireless licenses but never using them. ... Now, he was the only buyer that could build a credible fourth nationwide cellphone operator."

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What's next: "Ergen, whose core satellite-TV service has been losing customers, admits he is starting from behind in the cellphone game. But he argues that gives him an advantage."

• "Their legacy is mishmash. Their networks are plaid," he tells Fitzgerald. “We will be a solid color.”


🇺🇸 Talk of the Trail 🇺🇸

Debates, round two: The top 20 Democratic candidates will face off again on Tuesday and Wednesday night in Detroit. The debates, live on CNN, are likely to highlight the growing divide between the progressive and moderate wings of the party.

Last chance to dance: "New criteria will make it considerably harder to qualify for the next debate in September," CNN's Brian Rokus writes. For many candidates on stage this week, that means go big or go home.


Tim Cook faces whistleblower

Big in the Bay, big in the Beltway: An Apple whistleblower tells The Guardian that the company hires contractors to review and grade its Siri voice assistant who inadvertently end up hearing users' confidential medical information, drug deals, recordings of couples having sex, etc.

• “There have been countless instances of recordings featuring private discussions between doctors and patients, business deals, seemingly criminal dealings, sexual encounters and so on," The Guardian's Alex Hern reports. "These recordings are accompanied by user data showing location, contact details, and app data."

In a statement, Apple acknowledged that "a small portion of Siri requests are analyzed to improve Siri and dictation," but said none of that information was "associated with the user’s Apple ID" and that "reviewers are under the obligation to adhere to Apple’s strict confidentiality requirements."


Market Links

Tim Sweeney arrives at a game-changing moment (Verge)

Daniel Ek flirted with Spotify television and hardware (Variety)

Oliver Schusser spurs global growth at Apple Music (Billboard)

Jennifer Salke will not share Amazon viewership data (BI)

Lester Holt offers a glimpse into his music career (NYT)


Nancy Dubuc eyes Refinery29

Big in New York: "Vice Media is in talks to buy women-focused publisher Refinery29... a deal that would unite two of the largest venture-backed media companies in the U.S.," WSJ's Ben Mullin reports.

The big picture: "Both Refinery29 and Vice Media are among a class of new-media upstarts that raised millions of dollars at rich valuations... [but] have struggled to meet investor expectations for growth."

What's next: "Talks are still ongoing..."


Bob Iger wins 2019 early

Talk of Tinseltown: "Disney set the record for the highest-grossing year for a studio ever, and it's only July," CNN's Frank Pallotta reports.

• "The company has brought in an industry record $7.67 billion to date at the worldwide box office, it announced on Sunday."

• "That passed the previous record, which was also set by Disney, when it made $7.61 billion at the global box office in 2016."

• "Disney has three films that have made more than $1 billion at the worldwide box office in 2019. ... and could soon have five films that have crossed that threshold."

The big picture: "Disney's global domination is a reflection of what happens when you have some of the biggest brands in film," Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore, tells Pallotta.

• "Not to mention, the marketing muscle to get that content on the minds of virtually every potential moviegoer around the world on a consistent basis."


🎞️ What's next: Quentin Tarantino had his biggest domestic box office opening ever over the weekend as "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" brought in $40.3 million.

See you tomorrow.