T-Mobile continues acquisition spree with $4.4 billion US Cellular mega-deal

T-Mobile continues acquisition spree with $4.4 billion US Cellular mega-deal
Widely viewed as a wireless industry underdog just a few years ago, T-Mobile transformed itself into a market leader and trendsetter incredibly quickly with a series of "Un-carrier" moves and marketing stunts, and perhaps more importantly, a 2020 merger with Sprint.

That allowed the 4G LTE laggard to become a 5G pioneer and champion... while unfortunately also giving Magenta the confidence (read arrogance) to make a number of highly controversial pricing changes without worrying too much that the dwindling competition could eat away at its subscriber figures.

Although nowhere near as massive as the aforementioned Sprint acquisition, T-Mo's recently completed Mint Mobile takeover highlighted the operator's ever-growing ambition, and now that same ambition is producing a new business deal likely to cause even more concern for those who feel US wireless competition is being stifled.

All for the good of "millions of customers" (or is it?)

What was just a rumor earlier this month is today officially materializing (at least in part), as T-Mobile appears to have defeated Verizon in yet another key battle, this time for "substantially all of US Cellular's wireless operations."

That includes a portfolio with "millions of customers" around the nation, an unnamed number of stores, as well as "certain specified spectrum assets", which could help T-Mobile improve an already towering 5G network (as far as both coverage and speeds are concerned) even further.

If you're a US Cellular user, T-Mo claims your network experience will get massively better soon, which is probably true. In terms of value, however, the "Un-carrier's" lofty promises don't exactly come at the most opportune time, with many of its longtime subscribers being hit by a predictable but still incredibly painful and frustrating price hike just last week.

Of course, US Cellular customers will (initially) be able to choose between retaining their current plans and switching to an unlimited T-Mobile option at no cost, but if history is any indication, that choice might be restricted with time and the non-existent costs could well... appear down the line.

When will all the changes happen?

The short and perhaps most accurate answer to that question is "not particularly soon." That's because all deals of this sort need to clear various legal hurdles before receiving the green light from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and a bunch of other government agencies and authorities. 

Some of you probably remember how long it took and how difficult it was for T-Mobile to seal its $26 billion Sprint merger several years back, and while this acquisition is only estimated to cost $4.4 billion in a combination of cash and debt, that's still a lot of money and plenty of regulatory scrutiny is likely to follow in the next few months.

For comparison, T-Mo paid Ryan Reynolds (and his associates) less than $1.5 billion for Mint Mobile, Ultra Mobile, and Plum parent company Ka'ena Corporation a few weeks ago following an initial agreement announced way back in March 2023. That deal was challenged by at least one competing MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) that argued its completion would cause the industry further harm after Sprint's disappearance directly led to higher prices for wireless consumers nationwide.

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But even though something tells us similar arguments will be made about the newly announced acquisition, T-Mobile currently expects all necessary "closing conditions" to be met at some point in "mid-2025." The "Un-carrier" will obviously be unable to do anything with US Cellular's spectrum and for US Cellular's customers until then, so you probably shouldn't expect any changes to your 5G coverage, speeds, or prices for at least another year or so.

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