Verizon Buys Tracfone As U.S. Wireless Gets Even More Consolidated
from the merge-ALL-the-things dept
As economists and experts had warned, the recent $26 billion Sprint T-Mobile merger effectively decimated the prepaid space. T-Mobile had already laid off around 6,000 employees at its Metro Prepaid division, with more layoffs expected. Many of the “mobile virtual network operators” that operated on Sprint’s network now face an uncertain future, with growing resentment in the space among prepaid vendors, who say T-Mobile is already using its greater size and leverage to erode commissions and to renegotiate their contracts for the worse. Many prepaid vendors are calling for help that most certainly won’t be coming any time soon from the Trump Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Department of Justice?s Antitrust Division.
With that as backdrop, another major effort at wireless consolidation has emerged with Verizon’s announced purchase of Tracfone, one of the biggest prepaid vendors in the U.S. The $6.2 billion deal will, Verizon insists, result in “exciting and compelling” products in the years to come:
We are excited about the opportunity to bring @Tracfone and its brands into the Verizon family where we can put the full support of Verizon behind this business and provide exciting and compelling products into this attractive segment of the market. https://t.co/crbhXF6xHg pic.twitter.com/aX9VO50t6K
— Hans Vestberg (@hansvestberg) September 14, 2020
Yes, if there’s one word that American consumers have come to associate with major telecom mergers, it’s “excitement.”
The problem here, of course, is that the direct result of mindless M&A in the U.S. telecom space couldn’t be any more apparent. Less overall competitors means less effort to seriously compete on price. And the MVNO space had already been under relentless assault by companies like Verizon that have slowly but surely done their best to elbow out any smaller players that dare seriously compete on price with the major networks they must rely on to survive.
With the postpaid market saturated, wireless players are now forced to eek out growth wherever possible. In this case, via acquisitions, followed by only a superficial continued dedication to prepaid wireless lower-priced offerings. As part of the Tracfone deal, Verizon not only nabs 21 million Tracfone customers, but the company’s Net 10, Walmart FamilyMobile, SafeLink, Simple Mobile, Straight Talk Wireless, and Clearway prepaid brands as well.
Fewer major networks means less incentive than ever to negotiate on rates, roaming, or much of anything else. With Sprint (the most friendly company to MVNOs by a wide margin) now out of the picture, things have gotten more treacherous for smaller MVNOs than ever. Of course, if the U.S. stays close to its historical norm, in about five years U.S. wireless data (pre and postpaid alike) will be significantly higher, and everybody will be left standing around with a dumb look on their collective faces wondering what went wrong.