Mark your calendars for May 1, folks. That’s the day MetroPCS ceases being an independent entity and T-Mobile USA will no longer be a fully-owned subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom. MetroPCS shareholders on Wednesday voted to back the T-Metro merger, granting it the last remaining approval it needed.
The merger will combine the country’s smallest nationwide carrier with its largest regional carrier, giving the new company a total of 42.5 million wireless customers. That’s still not enough to overtake Sprint as the nation’s No. 3, but it will give the new company plenty of spectrum in key markets. T-Mobile has plotted a course that calls for delivering large quantities of mobile data to consumers at cheap prices and with no contracts. That strategy requires T-Mo to lay its hands on all the spectrum it can find.
Though Deutsche Telekom is the one making the buyout offer, T-Mobile will actually become a part of MetroPCS, taking advantage of the U.S. company’s placement on the New York Stock Exchange. DT, however, will own the majority of the shares, and – though we’ve been calling the new merger T-Metro for short – the company will take on the name T-Mobile USA. MetroPCS will live on as a brand in T-Mo’s arsenal.
The deal sailed over regulatory hurdles (the FCC didn’t even bother to vote on it), but it nevertheless suffered a close call when it came before Metro’s shareholders. Institutional investors took exception to what they considered DT’s low-ball offer and threatened to rage a proxy war to derail the deal.
DT at first played the tough guy refusing back down, but as the shareholder meeting approached earlier this month, it got nervous. MetroPCS rescheduled the meeting for this week, while DT proffered up a new terms – lowering the merged company’s debt load and that debt’s interest rates – to make the more attractive. It worked. The deal’s biggest opponent, hedge fund Paulson & Co., lifted its protests.
Once the deal closes, T-Mobile has a long integration process ahead – an ordeal that makes me question whether the merger is worth the trouble. T-Mobile, however, isn’t looking to duct tape together its GSM-based networks and Metro’s CDMA systems. It has something more radical in mind: cannibalizing MetroPCS for its spectrum. While T-Mo will keep the Metro brand and support its existing customers, the regional carrier’s CDMA and LTE networks are goners. T-Mobile plans to incorporate Metro’s spectrum into its ongoing network overhaul, creating very fast and high-capacity LTE and HSPA+ networks.
This post was updated at 9:30 AM Wednesday to add more background details.