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SoftBank CEO Says T-Mobile Deal Is Plan B If He Loses Sprint

SoftBank Corp. CEO Masayoshi Son
SoftBank Corp. Chief Executive Officer Masayoshi Son is counting on Sprint Nextel Corp., the third-largest U.S. wireless carrier, to jump-start his international expansion. Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg

SoftBank Corp. Chief Executive Officer Masayoshi Son, seeking to expand into the U.S. wireless market, said he sees T-Mobile US Inc. as a “Plan B” acquisition target if he fails to purchase Sprint Nextel Corp.

“I plan to go with Plan A if possible,” Son told a Bloomberg reporter in Tokyo today, referring to the company’s October agreement to buy Sprint. SoftBank increased its bid for Sprint to $21.6 billion this week, aiming to ward off a counteroffer from Dish Network Corp. Son said he doesn’t have any concern about SoftBank’s ability to finance the deal.

Son is counting on Sprint, the third-largest U.S. wireless carrier, to jump-start his international expansion. To do that, he’ll have to get past fellow billionaire Charlie Ergen, the chairman and co-founder of Dish. Ergen wants to use Sprint to vault his satellite-TV company into mobile-phone services.

“I am determined to be No. 1 in the world very soon in my industry,” Son said in a speech today. “You are lucky not to be my competitor.”

The power struggle between the two billionaires extends to a bidding war for Clearwire Corp., the money-losing high-speed wireless network jointly owned by Sprint. Dish has offered $4.40 a share for Clearwire, topping a Sprint bid of $3.40. Clearwire endorsed Dish’s deal this week, dealing a blow to SoftBank, which sees a unified Sprint and Clearwire as part of its U.S. expansion plan.

Clearwire Airwaves

While Sprint owns just over 50 percent of Clearwire, it needs full ownership to take control of the business’ valuable spectrum -- airwaves that could be used to bolster Sprint’s network.

If it pursued T-Mobile, which is majority-owned by Deutsche Telekom AG, SoftBank would be getting a smaller carrier. It ranks fourth in the U.S. market, behind Verizon Wireless, AT&T Inc. and Sprint. T-Mobile has a market value of $16.6 billion, compared with more than $22 billion for Sprint.

Sprint shares fell 1.4 percent on June 7 after Reuters reported that SoftBank was discussing an alternate deal with T-Mobile.

Ergen also has expressed interest in T-Mobile, people close to the situation said earlier this year. He informally approached Deutsche Telekom about a possible deal with the carrier sometime before April 10, before T-Mobile merged with MetroPCS Communications Inc. Andreas Leigers, a Deutsche Telekom spokesman, didn’t have an immediate comment on Son’s remarks.

When Deutsche Telekom agreed to combine T-Mobile with MetroPCS, the German company pledged not to sell shares of T-Mobile on the stock market for 18 months. Still, it’s allowed to sell its 74 percent stake all at once to a third party, Deutsche Telekom Chief Financial Officer Timotheus Hoettges told investors in May.

“We are in a position to sell all shares in one go,” Hoettges said.

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