By Greg Mills
For the better part of a year now, I have been advocating that Sprint is prime takeover bait for the likes of Apple. The landscape in the smartphone -- or, for that matter, the mobile computing business, including tablets -- is evolving very quickly and Apple has to "think different" to stay on top.
Vertical development in the mobile computing market must include an Apple Mobile business segment, in some form, for Apple to stay the leader of the industry. A number of other tech writers and industry analysts have recently come out confirming buying Sprint has merit. You have to know Apple has people thinking about such acquisitions.
Tony Fadell, formerly the head of the iPod division at Apple, came up with a scenario, a couple of years ago, where Apple could buy unused bandwidth from the various cellular providers, repackage those minutes for sale to consumers and managed the "virtual network" over the Internet. The Apple server farms would route the data over the net but connect calls and provide data links over the various cellular networks.
Apple proposed to contract with all of them for their unused minutes. Users wouldn't know the difference except for possible bargain prices and that you do business with Apple instead of AT&T or Verizon for service over their own networks.
Cricket, TracFone and others use a similar system to sell minutes they buy in bulk from the major cell phone networks. The Fadel concept used the Internet to simply make the cellular networks "dumb pipes." The idea went over like a screen door in a submarine. "When hell freezes over" was the sanitized reaction of the major US networks.
Google snapped up Motorola for both the patents and the synergy of owning the hardware end of the smartphone business. The legal fray between Apple and the "me too" hardware companies continues to fragment Android but Google is moving forward anyway.
Google, Apple and Microsoft each have the money and the motive to buy Sprint, but it is Apple that has Sprint over a barrel. The deal Apple made to sell 20 billion dollars worth of iPhones to Sprint amounted to Sprint betting the farm three times over. Sprint has a market cap of a bit over $7 billion dollars right now.
The disarray and disfunction of the Sprint board recently saw the CEO of Sprint giving back several million dollars of personal compensation to quiet angry Sprint stockholders. I'm more of the opinion of a gift of japanese seppuku suicide knifes for the members of the board of directors from the stockholders would have been more appropriate and functional is fixing Sprint.
Should Apple beat Google to the punch and buy Sprint outright, I figure Sprint stock would double overnight, giving Apple a national cellular network for virtually nothing or just chump change to a company with 100 billion in the bank. Apple then could trash the Sprint name and launch the Apple Mobile Network, upgrade the system and do cellular right.
While AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile would scream bloody murder and threaten to quit buying iPhones, Apple could say "fine, we will sell iPhones in the US if you don't want to handle them any more." The high prices Apple has been getting for the iPhone is breeding bad blood with the networks anyway. If Apple had its own network they would, in short order, take Sprint from a distant third to overtake AT&T in the US.
Sprint stock would surge dramatically and Apple would have a lot more growth long term. Ironically, it wouldn't even take an all cash deal for Apple to buy Sprint. There are a lot of creative ways for this to happen. Sprint stockholders would actually like being bought out by Apple. At least the management would improve -- and that is the problem with Sprint in the first place.
That is Greg's Bite.