As of the second quarter, the U.S. had 321.7 million mobile subscribers and four major carriers. One of the four, T-Mobile, says that the market is too small to allow four large mobile operators to thrive. Meeting with shareholders, T-Mobile COO Jim Alling said that there could be consolidation in the future that reduces the number of major U.S. carriers to three
. He says that such a move is possible now and is "likely in the long term". This almost took place last year when AT&T made a $39 billion bid for T-Mobile. Regulators balked at approving the deal and AT&T eventually rescinded the offer
Two of the top four carriers in the states are currently involved in potential deals. Japan's Softbank is shelling out $20 billion for 70% of Sprint, a deal that gives the carrier a capital injection of $8 billion to use toward its LTE build out. Yesterday, Sprint asked the FCC to sign off on the deal
. The other deal features Alling's own firm in a take-over of MetroPCS. The deal is one of migration, getting MetroPCS customers to migrate over to T-Mobile phones and its eventual 4G LTE pipeline.
Alling probably wouldn't make this comment unless he thought that T-Mobile would be a survivor. But right now, the smart money is betting that Softbank-Sprint will probably takeover T-Mobile down the road. Even Sprint CEO Dan Hesse believes that this will happen
. And having three major carriers serving a large population is something that is actually being done already in China, the largest smartphone market in the world. There, China Mobile
, China Unicom
and China Telecom
handle more than 1 billion mobile subscribers
T-Mobile sees an opportunity despite the lack of LTE service at the moment. CEO John Legere says that an aggressive roll out of LTE might be able to help T-Mobile grab market share at the expense of AT&T and Sprint. The former has 103 LTE markets and the latter just turned on its LTE signal in June
. Verizon has 440 LTE markets at present, to lead the way.