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In July 2019, the Justice Department approved T-Mobile's merger with smaller rival Sprint, after they agreed to sell off some assets and spectrum to satellite TV provider Dish Networks, which intends to create a new nationwide wireless carrier.
In February 2020, a district judge approved the $26.5 billion merger between the 3rd and 4th largest players in the telecom space – Sprint Corp and T-Mobile. The deal is helping T-Mobile register healthy subscriber growth, while also providing the company access to Sprint’s key radio frequency assets which, when combined with T-Mobile’s, will give it industry-leading 5G technology. This was reflected in the recently released FY2020 results. The company added 5.6 million postpaid customers in 2020, the most it ever has added in a single year. T-Mobile’s customer base now stands at more than 100 million, which puts it ahead of AT&T and makes it the second largest telecom player, just behind Verizon.
Also, its recent deal with Brookings Municipal Utilities (BMU) to acquire BMU’s Sprint-branded wireless assets will help TMUS widen its customer base.
Though the announcement of a global health emergency by WHO on January 31, 2020 led to a drop in markets, T-Mobile saw its stock price rise from $79 on January 31 to $100 on February 19, 2020. For the company, the exuberance provided by the green light given by the district judge to the T-Mobile and Sprint merger, and the merger being completed in April 2020, completely trounced the general bearish sentiment in the market. TMUS stock has increased from $75 to $127 (as on 3rd April 2021) off the 2020 bottom.
Below are key drivers of T-Mobile's value that present opportunities for upside or downside to the current Trefis price estimate:
Network quality and pricing remain the biggest differentiating factors in the wireless business. As T-Mobile's network performance has lagged behind its competitors, particularly outside of urban areas, it has competed by offering low priced plans and attractive equipment offers. However, T-Mobile's network is improving, driven partly by its growing low-band spectrum interests (it was the biggest winner in the FCC's 600 Mhz auction that concluded in early 2017) and infrastructure spending. If the carrier is able to match Verizon and AT&T in terms of network performance in the medium-term, there is likely to be a significant upside to the stock. T-Mobile could leverage an improved network by:
For additional details, select a driver above or select a division from the interactive Trefis split for T-Mobile at the top of the page.
T-Mobile US is the third-largest wireless communications services provider in the United States, providing voice, messaging and data to over 70 million customers in the postpaid, prepaid and wholesale markets. Germany's Deutsche Telekom AG maintains a majority ownership stake of about 66% in the company.
T-Mobile acquired smaller rival Sprint in April 2020.
We estimate that the Postpaid Mobile Plans & Phones segment is more valuable than the Prepaid Mobile Plans & Phones segment due to:
T-Mobile had close to 47 million branded postpaid phone subscribers in 2019 as compared to about 21 million prepaid subscribers. Moreover, the postpaid mobile market in the United States is significantly larger than the prepaid phone market, with postpaid plans accounting for roughly 4 out of 5 wireless phone connections in the country.
Monthly ARPUs for T-Mobile's postpaid users are roughly 30% higher compared to ARPU's for its prepaid users, on account of higher data and voice usage. Moreover, postpaid users are more loyal, leading to lower churn rates (1.4% vs 4.45% for prepaid during 2015). This translates to lower customer retention expenses and better margins.
In 2013, T-Mobile introduced its "Un-carrier" strategy, offering affordable wireless plans that came without the two-year contracts that were prevalent in the industry, while giving customers freedom on how they chose to buy devices. Although the other three carriers have followed suit, abandoning the contract/subsidy model over the last year, T-Mobile should have an edge in winning over new customers owing to its clever branding, lower pricing and value-added offers. T-Mobile captured practically all the industry's postpaid phone growth in 2015, adding a total of 3.5 million subscribers, helping its postpaid division improve its share of the wireless phone by 0.9% to 9.3%, per our estimates. The trend was similar in 2016 as well.
Mobile data usage has skyrocketed in the last few years due to the increasing proliferation of smartphones and the related applications and services. According to Cisco, North American mobile traffic per user will reach over 8 GB per month by 2020, up from roughly 1.8 GB per month in 2015, translating into a CAGR of 37%. Voice usage, on the other hand, is trending lower. According to the CTIA, aggregate monthly voice use in the U.S. fell from 218 billion minutes in 2013 to about 205 billion minutes in 2014. Carriers have also been tailoring their plans based on the monthly amount of data offered, while typically offering free unlimited voice and text.
The U.S. wireless market is saturating, with the total number of wireless connections standing at over 355 million and the number of wireless phone subscribers also coming in ahead of the U.S. population of about 319 million. It's likely that growth in the number of wireless phone connections - which represents the most lucrative segment of the wireless market - will slow significantly going forward. Carriers are likely to focus on retaining existing customers and winning over porting customers, while driving an incremental upside from areas such as connected devices and tablets, M2M connections and wholesale services to drive growth in service revenues.
Given the limited scope for wireless phone subscriber growth in the long term, carriers have been focusing on building other business that can leverage their sizable user bases such as wireless advertising and content distribution. During 2015, Verizon closed its acquisition of AOL in a move that significantly improves its programmatic advertising and mobile video capabilities. AT&T closed a deal to buy DirecTV, giving it access to a rich library of content and providing it opportunities to sell bundled services. While T-Mobile has focused its efforts on expanding its core wireless business thus far, it's possible that it could increase its interests in these emerging areas as its subscriber growth begins to slow.
T-Mobile largely utilizes mid-band spectrum such as Advanced Wireless Services (“AWS”) and Personal Communications Service (“PCS”), which typically have weaker propagation characteristics compared to lower band spectrum. This has at least partly been responsible for the carrier's weaker network coverage. However, the carrier is working to build up its portfolio of low band spectrum that can cover large distances and penetrate building walls. T-Mobile bought some 700MHz A-Block airwaves from Verizon in 2014 and the carrier says that this band now covers approximately 190 million people. T-Mobile was also a big winner of 600MHz spectrum in the FCC's incentive auction (it picked up about 45% of spectrum available at the auction), which concluded in early 2017. This could help it eventually strengthen its network performance, enter new markets and potentially improve pricing power.