T-Mobile CEO says he's open to all scenarios with Dish

John Legere says that whether Dish is interested in an acquisition or a partnership to put its large cache of wireless spectrum to use, T-Mobile will benefit.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
3 min read

Whatever satellite TV provider Dish Network decides to do with its large stash of spectrum, it will be good news for T-Mobile, said John Legere, CEO of the wireless carrier.

"We look at their spectrum portfolio, and video, as a fascinating idea to consider," Legere said during T-Mobile's fourth-quarter conference call Thursday, addressing the long-standing rumors that Dish may be interested in acquiring or partnering with T-Mobile. "I think Dish offers a great opportunity for the country and possibly T-Mobile."

Legere, however, declined to comment on any potential specific deals when asked in a follow-up interview. Dish also declined to comment.

Talk of a tie-up between the two companies resurfaced following the conclusion of the Federal Communications Commission's most recent auction of spectrum, or the radio frequencies used to transmit wireless data, which ended in January. Dish walked away the second-highest bidder, spending $13.3 billion in the record-breaking auction that brought in a total of $45 billion for the federal government.

For years, Dish has been accumulating spectrum from auctions and other transactions. But to date, the company hasn't begun building a wireless network. Though Dish and other bidders in the most recent auction aren't required to use the spectrum for up to a decade, the company owns other spectrum licenses that must be put to use by 2017. Even though Dish's chairman, Charlie Ergen, has talked about getting into the wireless business, the company has yet to make a major move.

In 2013, Dish made a bid to acquire Sprint but lost to Softbank, which ended up buying the company for $21.6 billion.

As Dish acquires even more spectrum and as the deadline for putting that spectrum to use draws near, questions are swirling about Dish's plans. In addition to acquisitions, some have speculated the company may partner with existing wireless operators in a network-sharing arrangement. Legere said he isn't sure what Dish's plan is. But whatever the company decides to do, whether it's an acquisition or a partnership, T-Mobile is game.

"We like what they're doing," Legere said in an interview. "It makes sense to have a discussion."

But Legere cautioned that most of the speculation about acquisitions and partnerships involving T-Mobile and Dish or Dish and other partners, like Sprint, are all "spreadsheet" oriented. He said the proof will be in the execution of integrating the networks and services and making sure customer needs are met. It takes a lot of capability to pull it off, he said.

Legere also addressed speculation that T-Mobile may be partnering with Google on the search giant's rumored Wi-Fi mobile service that's expected to offer voice, text messaging and data service using Wi-Fi networks. To ensure customers have coverage even when they're not in a Wi-Fi hotspot, Google is supposedly looking to partner with T-Mobile or Sprint to allow customers to access those companies' cellular networks when not within range of a Wi-Fi signal. Companies such as Republic Wireless and FreedomPop offer a similar service, partnering with Sprint for backup cellular service.

Legere declined to comment specifically on a tie-up with Google, but he indicated that such a partnership with Google, or with cable operators that may also be readying similar Wi-Fi mobile services, are possibilities.

"We need to think differently about the structure of the industry," he said. "It's about serving current needs of wireless customers."

Legere said that if customers of Google or cable companies need mobility, T-Mobile can provide the network that can help them augment Wi-Fi.

"It's a perfect opportunity for us to continue to position this brand and solve the needs of customers," he said.

He added this is likely a different perspective from how his larger wireless rivals AT&T and Verizon see the situation.

"Instead of saying 'Oh my God, here they come,'" Legere said. "It's a great opportunity to accelerate momentum and to help solve [customer] issues instead of worrying about digging our heels in."