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Bigger ‘Uncarrier’ Looks to Become a Force in Streaming

Having spent nearly $50 billion to buy DirecTV in 2015 and another $85 billion to purchase Time Warner Inc. in 2018, you’d think AT&T would be the undisputed leader among U.S. wireless companies when it comes to video streaming.

Before that, the billions of dollars spent by Verizon Communications on everything from AOL to Yahoo to Intel’s OnCue assets seemed to briefly anoint that carrier as the mobile business’s undisputed video king.

As the wireless business heads into the perilously capex-intensive 5G future, though, it’s actually the so-called New T-Mobile, fresh off its $30 billion purchase of Sprint, that might have the inside track to the video business.

“T-Mobile, in our view, is now the most compelling investment opportunity in our coverage universe,” MoffettNathanson analyst Craig Moffett noted just days before the April 1 closing of the Sprint merger.

Indeed, T-Mobile is no longer just the thirdranked wireless carrier with the funky magentacolored branding and the quirky, loudmouthed — but undeniably effective — CEO.

With the merger, New T-Mobile now controls more than 30% of U.S. wireless subscriptions, surpassing Verizon and now only trailing AT&T. John Legere, the flamboyant CEO who led the company into prominence over the last eight years with the pirate-like “Uncarrier” brand message, has left the building in Bellevue, Washington, replaced by longtime chief operating officer Mike Sievert.

5G Ambition

T-Mobile is looking to get the drop on the U.S. market and has promised to deliver low-band 5G coverage to 5,000 cities, reaching 200 million wireless customers by the end of 2020. T-Mobile and Sprint have already begun combining their 5G networks. Philadelphia and New York are set to be the first markets to get access to Sprint’s 2.5 GHz midband 5G network. This is in addition to the existing 600 MHz low-band and millimeter wave high-band 5G networks T-Mobile has already launched.

As cable operators are well aware, wireless companies like AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile have plans for 5G that don’t just involve next-generation networks for smartphones, but also see 5G as a means of disrupting cable’s stranglehold on the U.S. wireline broadband market, for which it controls two-thirds of market share.

And just like cable operators, T-Mobile has a plan to bundle video with its fixed 5G offering.

“We’re getting ready for a world where 5G replaces home broadband and TVision Home will replace your cable TV — and launching a complete, high-end home TV service is a key part of that strategy,” T-Mobile said on the website for its internet-based pay TV service, TVision.

Base priced at $90 for over 154 live-streamed channels, including cloud DVR, TVision is the result of T-Mobile’s $325 million acquisition of Layer3 TV in January 2018. Rebranded as TVision, the erstwhile Layer3 service relaunched a year ago in the same Layer3 TV markets — Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Washington and Longmont, Colorado. It’s unclear as to what additional markets the service is currently in, or how many subscribers it has.

But it was reported earlier this month by Light Reading that T-Mobile is working with MobiTV, a vendor that specializes in creating streaming video technology solutions for pay TV operators, to remodel the TVision tech platform it bought from Layer3 TV.

The resulting pay TV service would be foundationed on an app-based TVision platform that could roll out nationally and be bundled right along with T-Mobile’s fixed 5G services.

As T-Mobile readies its own video platform, it has stepped up aggressive promotions for unlimited wireless plans. Under its “Netflix on Us” campaign, for instance, T-Mobile since October 2018 has offered subscribers unlimited family plans and other select tiers free base-level access to the No. 1 SVOD service.

Free Quibi for Subs

It just added a “Quibi on Us” promotion earlier this month, tacking on Jeffrey Katzenberg’s new $4.99-a-month mobile-first streaming service to free Netflix for these same subscribers.

Notably, Sprint offers free base-tier access to Hulu to its unlimited customers. Will there be a day when New T-Mobile subscribers get all three streaming services gratis? T-Mobile reps are tight-lipped about that for now. But it would be a competitive offering in a world where Verizon is offering a full year of free Disney+, and AT&T is giving away its $14.99-amonth HBO Max service.