Looks like SoftBank is doing something with Sprint after all

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Looks like SoftBank is doing something with Sprint after all
Back in the days when it was just a rumor that SoftBank was gearing up to take a majority stake in Sprint, there was a lot of excitement about what the deal could mean for the US wireless industry.

While it was not realistic to think we were going to get any fancy hardware from Japan as part of the deal, there was a lot of conjecture that Masayoshi Son was going to at least encourage the sort of shake up we witnessed with T-Mobile’s John Legere who pretty much owns the franchise in that department amongst the big carriers..

After all, Masayoshi Son bet big on the internet and was one of the pioneers that brought Yahoo! to Japan. He bet big in buying out Vodafone Japan, and created SoftBank. Immediately, SoftBank started shaking things up in Japan, and what was a very distant third place carrier became a viable competitor to NTT DoCoMo and KDDI au.

Given that, it made sense to think that there might be some influence in the business model with Sprint following the acquisition last summer. However, Sprint did not embark on any such activity. Despite Masayoshi Son’s claims that he was “betting $20 billion” that he would be successful, instead we started seeing talk about buying T-Mobile instead, a venture which SoftBank admittedly could not afford even a break-up fee if such a deal could not close.

It was also a given that Masayoshi Son was going to take a close interest in Sprint’s daily operations. Though here we are nearly one year after the deal closes and what is there to show for it? Okay, the Framily plans have a pretty neat feature for billing, and they are reasonably priced, but ground breaking they are not.

There is one area where SoftBank has definitely leveled influence and that is in marketing which features Sprint’s new Frobinson family. You may have noticed that the characters in this “framily” each have their own distinct trait. The daughter speaks only French, one of the sons is a bit dim, and the father is…a hamster. Where did they come up with that idea?

As it happens, SoftBank’s Japanese ads feature an interesting family, known as the “White Family,” with a Shiba Inu dog as the father. The dog’s name is Kai, often referred to affectionately as Kai-kun, and is probably the most famous dog in Japan.

I will admit I had higher expectations from the SoftBank takeover of Sprint. Sprint holds a lot of spectrum, seems to finally be on track with rolling out a common platform for 4G/LTE, though it is TD-LTE as opposed to the FDD-LTE standard used by AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon. Manufacturers and chipmakers are backing both flavors so no big deal.

In all honesty, I thought Sprint would be more disruptive to the market than it has been. Instead, it seems a bit like the status quo, with the competitors getting the subscriber growth while the nation's number three fends off the barbarians at the gate.  I know Sprint has to go through some big adjustments to get its network on track, and that will take more than a year.  I guess I was just hoping for some more simultaneous action.

Kai-kun is set to retire later this year, but his “son” Kaito will continue the endearing legacy that SoftBank has established. Is Sprint’s Frobinson hamster destined to create the same legacy? Even if the voice is Andrew Dice Clay, I don’t know if it could ever be as endearing as a cool looking dog. Though the French speaking daughter with little blue birds orbiting her head is a nice touch. Then again, when not much has changed, it doesn’t really matter what language it is.


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31 Comments

1. 0xFFFF

Posts: 3806; Member since: Apr 16, 2014

A Japanese dog is not going to hep Sprint unless it chases after the Sprint execs and bites them if they keep screwing up. Softbank will have to put in $5-10 billion more into Sprint to modernize its network. Otherwise, there really is nothing Sprint can do except fade away.

3. Droid_X_Doug

Posts: 5993; Member since: Dec 22, 2010

And one more reason NOT to let Son-boy attempt to acquire T-Mo - he is lacking on follow-through. His acquisition of Sprint was supposed to disrupt the status quo. What did he do? He has a dog for a marketing campaign. I agree with you, that maybe the dog should chase the senior executives and bite them, starting with Son-boy.

5. Slammer

Posts: 1515; Member since: Jun 03, 2010

Masayoshi Son is beginning to feel the effects of VZW and AT&T's long standing power and influence on America's soil. He will need to spend his money in lobbying the government. That is the only way politicians recognize any type of serious game play. From building infrastructure to purchasing smaller carriers, Softbank needs to influence the government that its money can overcome the red tape just like big red and big blue have done. No new towers in my back yard? No purchasing of certain carriers? Limiting the amount of spectrum sold to one carrier? History has proved that the two largest carriers have spent tons of cash on negating regulatory limits. Sadly, Softbank needs to line pockets in order to achieve results. John B.

8. Jommick

Posts: 221; Member since: Sep 10, 2013

Agreed. It's an entirely different culture in the United States as opposed to Japan. Then again, running a company in general isn't exactly easy either, no matter where in the world you are

10. Slammer

Posts: 1515; Member since: Jun 03, 2010

I have witnessed the financial and political power of the two largest carriers. There is a place in the Adirondacks that was just approved for a VZW cell site. It is provisioned in a term that VZW and AT&T may build in the town behind one of the resident's home on his property. Any other carriers must meet APA approval to add their antennae to the tower or they need to build their own towers. For years, no other carrier could build there. Now the system was overridden to allow a tower? This has happened in my town where I reside as well. Sprint tried to construct a tower a half a mile down the street from me. The town fought off the structure, three years later, AT&T miraculously is approved for the tower. People think smaller carriers are not motivated enough to expand yet, ignore the political aspects in accomplishing network growth. John B.

16. Gawain

Posts: 438; Member since: Apr 15, 2010

Sprint holds more spectrum licenses than any other carrier. They have plenty of low-band left over from that debacle known as Nextel, they have a ton of high-cap spectrum from that sh!tstorm called Clearwire and they have to convert a bunch of other spectrum from that tragedy known as WiMAX. Sprint has rights-of-way to a network it built from the ground up when it bought all those PCS licenses. What do you expect from the other carriers, Sprint was probably the single driving force that kept AT&T and T-Mobile from merging. I wasn't in favor of it either, but do you really expect AT&T will forget? Those shenanigans cost the evil empire $4 billion in cash, spectrum and roaming agreements.

18. Slammer

Posts: 1515; Member since: Jun 03, 2010

You can hold the universe's total spectrum rights/licenses and still not be able to build out a network. Zoning is frugal. As I stated in my previous comment, Sprint gets a fingers down for a tower placement yet, AT&T magically erects a tower in the same place three years later. I can presume Sprint was equally upset. This reminds me of a T-Mobile request four years ago as well. Turned down yet, VZW constructs one 1/4 mile down the street. I know because my friend's property of 10 acres was the projected cell site. He said yes the town said no. Yet, the town said yes to VZW. Politics definitely play hardball. VZW and AT&T have the funds to make the government say "Hmmmmm." John B. BTW, I don't support "break Up Fees." The carriers were never together to begin with. T-Mobile could play this game every year. Accept an offer and hope it gets turned down. Why get sold? AT&T should have never accepted a break up fee. Neither should Sprint. Someone or some other business will purchase if it gets shot down.

21. 0xFFFF

Posts: 3806; Member since: Apr 16, 2014

Unfortunately, Sprint has been making bad strategic decisions for a long time. In your own words: Nextel -- "debacle" Clearwire -- "sh!tstorm" WiMax -- "tragedy" Given this mess, there just isn't any easy way forward to a better situation. Softbank needs to invest money in making a quality network. This may mean trying to use this patchwork quilt of bandwidth frequencies or maybe it is getting involved in the 600Mhz auction. Softbank also needs to put in place a better management team, one that doesn't make so many dumb mistakes. Either way, it will take many years of commitment and many billions of investment.

23. Slammer

Posts: 1515; Member since: Jun 03, 2010

0xFFF, There is no doubt that Sprint has had its shares of discontent amoungst the media and viewers of this content. However, if we breakdown the logic in Sprint's repertoire, the only real botch was not the Nextel purchase itself(as we see the 800Mhz Sprint acquired through the deal) but, how it was handled with trying to mesh two completely dissimilar technologies. Mixing CDMA and GSM is considered difficult yet obtainable. IDEN is completely a different format in how it operates. As far as Clearwire(Later Clear), Clear was the holder of Worldwide Microwave Access (WiMAX). Sprint had no involvement at this point with either the technology nor the company. Many markets overseas where already implementing or had implemented WiMAX 4G. LTE was a mere concept. Clear had begun a small deployment of WiMAX in certain markets using its own infrastructure. Given the possible marketing value of WiMAX, Clear wanted needed help, Sprint and Clear joined forces and Sprint would own 51% stake. Sprint helped with funding but it was up to Clear to build out the networm using its own infrastructure. Since Sprint was under obligation to the FCC in utilizing its spectrum in a time frame or risk loosing the spectrum, it was a no brainer to move with WiMAX in joint venture with Clear. LTE was not nearly ready nor approved yet by the 3GPP. By the time an approval was made for LTE, VZW and AT&T were the only ones to accept the standard and Sprint/Clear had over 95 markets online. T-Mobile had not committed to any one technology yet. Sprint did what they needed to do. Unfortunately, financial funds under both Clear and Sprint were lacking. No thanks to Clear's inept, internal managment structure, Sprint got pulled down with it. The epilogue to this story is that Sprint may have fallen on hard times, Sprint still has life left. Its revenue has gained positive momentum and Softbank has only just gotten its hands on Sprint. It takes time to allocate a new direction and implement the plans. Regulatory measures are difficult. And with VZW and AT&T controlling close to 85% of the american wireless industry, Sprint AND T-Mobile are going to need support rather than constant degrading from readers. Yes, in spite of hype on T-Mobile, it needs far more than giving away the house to attract customers. VZW and AT&T have Sprint and T-Mobile right where they want them. Each sucking for air. Each have actually done remarkably well considering the financial and political power the VZW and AT&T hold within this fickle industry. John B.

24. 0xFFFF

Posts: 3806; Member since: Apr 16, 2014

There are two important points here. First, you rightly call attention to the insidious duopoly that rules the telecom industry in the US. IMO, the DOJ needs to dust off the Sherman Antitrust Act and get to work. But, as you and I know, this is not likely to happen in our lifetimes. So Sprint (and T-Mobile) have to be very smart in their management decisions as unforced errors will greatly hasten their demise. Second, we could spend all day discussing the ineptitude of Sprint. Getting involved in a funky technology like WiMAX was a strategic blunder. It was half-baked technology being promoted by some half-baked scammer company. Sprint should have stuck with the same technologies most of the big players in the world were using (i.e. LTE). Sprint should never have gotten into bed with Clearwire. Nextel was another highly flawed purchase, but for somewhat different reasons. One can say the 800Mhz bandwidth wasn't bad to have, but Sprint could have gotten 700Mhz bandwidth in the various auctions. Bandwidth that was not encumbered with a customer base who depended on PTT/IDEN technology. Buying bandwidth with this type of encumbrance and paying a premium for it, well, that is just a blunder. One could on and on. Sprint management has actively driven the company into the ground in recent times. They all need the boot and someone with a working brain needs to be put in charge. No more half-baked technology plans, no more requiring special phones, etc. Sprint needs to be realistic about its spectrum and the cost of delivering compelling phones to market using this spectrum. Finally, Sprint needs to be serious about delivering quality, something they actually did a good job of before getting involved in all the funky acquistions. If they can go back to delivering quality, then there is some chance for them. Otherwise, they will continue to flounder and fade away, like they are today with the worst LTE network in the nation.

25. Slammer

Posts: 1515; Member since: Jun 03, 2010

---"Sprint should have stuck with the same technologies most of the big players in the world were using (i.e. LTE). Sprint should never have gotten into bed with Clearwire."--- As I stated in my last comment, LTE wasn't approved nor was it even a working technology and Sprint couldn't wait for LTE. It was subject to allocate its spectrum holdings or forfeit the holdings. Sprint did the right thing. What carrier wants to lose spectrum. Clearwire had a working 4G technology and Sprint sought out the opportunity to jump into the game before any of the other 3. Unfortunately, no one can predict the future. You have to bank on the possibility. Why not WiMAX? Technically, it is very closely related to LTE. The difference is upload technology. But unless you like uploading your porn, is upload really as important? I simply can't accept the WiMAX argument that is is horrible. It wasn't half-baked. It was a technology encompassed with evolving capabilities. Given lower spectrum operation, I argue that no one would've noticed a difference. If we want to refute technology, why wasn't UMB(Ultra Mobile Broadband) selected as the 4G standard rather than LTE? Technically, it was the better platform. The industry was essentially robbed of a better technology. But, back to the subject of Sprint's decision on Clear, The difference is Sprint HAD to move or lose regardless of Clear's reputation. I don't know why people seem to overlook this very important element of decision. John B. I

2. thequota

Posts: 43; Member since: Apr 02, 2013

the framily plan is far from being a reasonable price..

13. fzacek

Posts: 2486; Member since: Jan 26, 2014

T-Mobile's family plan is a much better value...

20. a_merryman

Posts: 749; Member since: Dec 14, 2011

How? If you get 6 people you can get unlimited everything for $45, plus yearly upgrades? I don't see how that isn't a great deal...

27. TruPatriot

Posts: 110; Member since: May 27, 2013

Then they have effectively marketed to you.

30. a_merryman

Posts: 749; Member since: Dec 14, 2011

I mean, the only bad part is that my family is 5 people, so it is inconvenient to find the 6th person. And since we're on an old plan it's more expensive until you have that 6-10 tier. But if you can easily find 6 people, yeah.

4. RandomUsername

Posts: 808; Member since: Oct 29, 2013

wow such shibe

6. ajac09

Posts: 1482; Member since: Sep 30, 2009

LOL sprint has so many issues that to be fair they are destined to be bought and absorbed. They are a failing company. A network that is still falling apart and a horrible customer service. Their commercials are getting more and more annoying and despite the fact I opt out of advertisements I get at least 3 a week in the mail and on a day in email. We should just let them die and soft bank should take the hit for wasting so much money on sprint. Sprint needs 20 billion alone to get its network up and running for all its customers.

9. Slammer

Posts: 1515; Member since: Jun 03, 2010

I gave you a thumbs up for excelling at following status quo in minimizing Sprint as a carrier. Repeating verbatim, what everyone on this site has to say. You are a quintessential follower of other disciples. However, as far as accuracy in your comment, it lacks substance to prove your opinion. Sprint is spending a considerable amount of time in rebuilding its entire infrastructure. As a consumer of Sprint, I can confirm that its network rebuild in my area has proved to be a worthy project. The compromise of good service while it was being re-built was expected and even written in my billing statement that I would experience issue. The network is very nimble and offers a very competitive speed formidability. Sprint has also been increasing revenue and customer service on my end, has been stellar. Quit reading other poster's negative comments. I am a customer and have never been more satisfied with Sprint's service since 2006. John B.

14. JEverettnow

Posts: 228; Member since: Mar 11, 2013

I worked for the company and even I doubt the network vision progress. The shutdown of a bunch of call centers in the U.S. has caused extreme headaches between and miscommunication between the stores and customer care which created horrible customer service. The plans which have changed in name, but stayed the same in price are tricky as well. Factor in the monthly payment of the phone and insurance and it is quite a bit more. If you have 7-10 lines then it is an ok price. Sprint has a lot of work to do, but it might be more than they can handle. In my area network vision was implemented then almost abandoned. Now 3 months after all of the upgrades were done and 4g was launched, they shutdown 4g and dropped calls were at an all time high. For any indication on where sprint is at across the U.S. just read the comments on their facebook posts. Im severely disappointed in the lack of progress with the company. Internally it is a mess too. Employees constantly leave, managers and and upper management are constantly being layed off and shuffled around. Constant changes are being made with policies and procedures as well as huge company wide layoffs and pay cuts. I really hope it turns around. Sprint is needed for competition, but with very little money actually put into the network and bad decision after bad decision my hope is a little thin. I think the key to the turn around is quickly implementing the 800mhz voice and lte.

17. Slammer

Posts: 1515; Member since: Jun 03, 2010

All due respect to your internal experience over my external, but what Sprint is going through right now seems reminiscent of the Cingular/AT&T merge. I remember similar internal and external problems. Many of my colleagues, friends and family left due to that fiasco. John B.

22. 14545

Posts: 1835; Member since: Nov 22, 2011

I can't speak to recent sprint, but I know I had major issues with them in 06-07 when I finally left and went to VZW. Then, many of my friends have since left as well. However, the most recent defector was 2012, and he said their service and customer service had just gotten unbearable. Like I said, I can't speak to recently, but most of my friends have left the carrier. I know of no one recently that has made efforts to go to them. Just an outsider looking in. I do wish they would be more disruptive, ala Tmo, because the US landscape does really need major shift in the status quo.

28. TruPatriot

Posts: 110; Member since: May 27, 2013

you're the only satisfied with Sprint's service since 2006.

7. kg4icg

Posts: 83; Member since: May 18, 2008

To bad the girl in the commercial isn't speaking French, it is Dutch.

11. engineer-1701d unregistered

are you f ing kidding me thats what softbank used to help its sales, wow just wow glad i am leaving sprint next month. even if i dont have a phone to use ill be happy without them.

12. Slammer

Posts: 1515; Member since: Jun 03, 2010

You're leaving because of a TV ad? Maybe a phone is the last thing you need right now. John B.

15. JEverettnow

Posts: 228; Member since: Mar 11, 2013

He is probably leaving because of poor service. The fact that they think they can generate sells with an inferior product but weird ads instead of finishing the network is probably the straw that broke the camels back.

19. Slammer

Posts: 1515; Member since: Jun 03, 2010

T-mobile is doing the same thing. Am I right? I live in a populated city and 13 miles outside the city limit, there's nothing. Yet, they profess "Nationwide" coverage. It's all a game. John B.

26. fjftokyo

Posts: 65; Member since: Jun 06, 2013

What the hell is the point of buying a company such as Sprint if your not going to improve it or remodel it to create or even revamp the mobile market. It's been almost a year since Softbank's acquisition of Sprint and all we have to show for it is a new family plan? in this one year Mr. Masayoshi Son could of invested into building poor if not to non 4G network that Sprint claims to have and this is coming from a soon to be EX Sprint customer.

29. retronig

Posts: 23; Member since: Nov 21, 2013

Son has not done anything to make sprint a better company. I mean who cares about family? He is stupid enough to think that he will be allowed to purchase Tmobile and just sit around on his butt like he has done with sprint. As I have said before he needs to worry about the crap he already is in charge of now instead of trying to add another company. Would be way different if he mad a real difference in sprint. How many millions of customers have left sprint since the takeover now??????

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