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SoftBank Chairman: More Confident About Sprint Turnaround

Overland Park, Kan. – Sprint chairman Masayoshi Son admitted he lost confidence in Sprint’s future after a failed bid to merge the company with T-Mobile, but he reaffirmed his support of Sprint’s turnaround plans during an investor’s conference call today.

Son, who is also chairman/CEO of Sprint majority owner SoftBank, said he has “refocused” his time in the past few months to help management turn Sprint around, and “now we have a plan to have a big turnaround,” he said.

“I don’t want to sell the company,” he stressed, contending that Sprint will become “a very, very good company” even though it currently is cash-flow negative.

With network improvements already underway, Son said Sprint will create a network that is equal to or better than competing networks “very soon with much lower [capital expenditure],” thanks to Softbank’s ability to share its expertise in building its own network in Japan using the same 2.5GHz band and TDD and FDD LTE technologies as Sprint is using.

Sprint president/CEO Marcelo Claure said the company is “positioned for network parity or superiority over the next two years,” thanks to multiple initiatives that include upgrading almost all cell sites to tri-band (800MHz, 1.8GHz and 2.5GHz) operation. The company is also adding thousands of microsites and tens of thousands of small cells to improve capacity and data speed. And in the 80 markets where the company is rolling out 2x20MHz carrier aggregation in the 2.5GHz band, data speeds are expected to double to up to 125-135Mbps, he said. Seven consumer devices, including the Samsung S6, incorporate carrier aggregation.

The network improvements, plus the amount of spectrum owned by Sprint, would put the company in a position to replicate AT&T and Verizon in launching video services over LTE, Claure said. Sprint could enter into content partnerships just as Verizon has, but Claure noted that on a worldwide basis, the track records of carriers offering video services “have not been stellar.”

For his part, Son cast doubt on the success of the video efforts by AT&T and Verizon, noting that all four U.S. networks are “congested badly.” Video services will “choke the network,” he claimed. All four carriers in the U.S. have to “cure” the congestion issue before launching video bundles through mobile networks, he contended.

Separately, Claure said Sprint is still assessing whether to enter the 600MHz auction bids and noted the spectrum might not be available until 2020. Sprint wants to “understand the rules” before deciding whether to bid, he said.