There’s also the question of what will happen to Sprint. The carrier was reportedly in merger talks with T-Mobile before news of the AT&T deal came through Sunday. If the acquisition goes through, Sprint will take a backseat in the mobile arena, constantly trying to stay on its toes to keep up with big boys Verizon and AT&T. And if the deal isn’t approved by the FCC, there will be a new price standard set for T-Mobile’s head.
GigaOm points out that the immediate resulting impact of the deal goes far beyond a shoddy selection of phones and more expensive plans for customers:
Before the merger was announced, the handset makers such as HTC and Motorola had two major carriers who could buy their GSM-based phones. They just lost any ability to control price and profits on handsets because now there is a single buyer that can dictate what GSM phones come to market. Even with LTE becoming the standard for the 4G world, it would essentially be a market dominated by three buyers (should Sprint go with LTE), which would place handset makers at the mercy of the giants.
Both AT&T and T-Mobile customers probably won’t see any major changes for a while, at least not immediately. If the government regulatory agencies approve the deal, it will still take at least 12 months to iron out all the kinks.
There’s a lot that’s still unknown. The cell phone bands on T-Mobile and AT&T, while compatible, aren’t exactly the same, so its unclear, for example, how T-Mobile 3G users will be able to hop onto AT&T’s 3G network for the time being. (Short answer: they won’t probably be able to for now.)
[Update: AT&T reported that they eventually plan to migrate everyone to AT&T’s 3G and 4G network, so T-Mobile customers will eventually have to replace their 3G phones.]
As to what will happen to T-Mobile? The outlook isn’t great. AT&T will either slowly absorb the currently Deutsche Telekom-owned company, meaning that consumers will lose out on a viable carrier alternative. The other option would be to let T-Mobile stand as it is, which would be better than nothing. Given AT&T’s past acquisitions with Alltell and Cingular, that doesn’t look too likely.
However, current T-Mobile customers may be able to continue the contracts that they originally signed up for. According to AllThingsD, the new company “will honor all contracted plans that are entered into before the change of ownership.”
Who knows? Maybe T-Mobile users will finally get iPhones, although that doesn’t look too likely either.
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