T-Mobile signs a $4.4 billion deal to buy most of US Cellular – The Verge

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T-Mobile’s big acquisition could help boost its 5G coverage in rural areas but also means less competition.

T-Mobile logo with illustrated background.

a:hover]:text-gray-63 [&>a:hover]:shadow-underline-black dark:[&>a:hover]:text-gray-bd dark:[&>a:hover]:shadow-underline-gray [&>a]:shadow-underline-gray-63 dark:[&>a]:text-gray-bd dark:[&>a]:shadow-underline-gray”>Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

T-Mobile has agreed to purchase parts of regional wireless carrier US Cellular in a $4.4 billion deal that includes US Cellular’s wireless customers, stores, and approximately 30 percent of spectrum assets. US Cellular will retain ownership of its towers and “approximately 70 percent of its spectrum portfolio across several spectrum bands,” with T-Mobile entering a long-term arrangement to lease space on more than 2,000 towers.

According to T-Mobile, the deal will improve nationwide coverage for US Cellular wireless customers while providing better 5G connectivity in “underserved rural areas” where T-Mobile sometimes struggles compared to AT&T and Verizon. It would also reduce the number of carriers competing in markets where US Cellular offers service, which will certainly come up as the companies seek regulatory approval to close this deal on schedule by mid-2025.

T-Mobile was allowed to buy Sprint once it sold Boost Mobile to Dish Network to start another national wireless carrier, and we’ve seen how that’s gone. By the end of 2023, Boost had 1.5 million fewer customers than it did before the sale, and according to Dish co-founder Charlie Ergen, the “vast majority” don’t have a phone that works on Dish’s own network.

As we noted in our 2021 roundup of 5G phone plans in the US, at the time, US Cellular only offered “low-band” 5G that was not much faster than 4G. Since then, as its coverage map (below) shows, it has added “5G Plus” network access in some areas with a combination of mmWave and 5G mid-band network that can offer much more bandwidth. In a press release last summer, US Cellular said its mid-band network would cover more than 1 million households by the end of 2023 and nearly 3 million would have access by the end of 2024.

Screenshot of US Cellular’s 5G map of the US, with blue areas covering several states on the West Coast, in the middle of the country, and in the Northeast and Southeast.

Screenshot of US Cellular’s 5G map of the US, with blue areas covering several states on the West Coast, in the middle of the country, and in the Northeast and Southeast.

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a:hover]:text-gray-63 [&>a:hover]:shadow-underline-black dark:[&>a:hover]:text-gray-bd dark:[&>a:hover]:shadow-underline-gray [&>a]:shadow-underline-gray-63 dark:[&>a]:text-gray-bd dark:[&>a]:shadow-underline-gray”>Image: US Cellular

In today’s announcement, T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert said:

With this deal T-Mobile can extend the superior Un-carrier value and experiences that we’re famous for to millions of UScellular customers and deliver them lower-priced, value-packed plans and better connectivity on our best-in-class nationwide 5G network. As customers from both companies will get more coverage and more capacity from our combined footprint, our competitors will be forced to keep up – and even more consumers will benefit.

T-Mobile says that US Cellular customers can choose to stay on their current plan or move to an unlimited T-Mobile plan “of their choosing with no switching costs.” The acquisition announcement comes just a few weeks after T-Mobile completed its $1.35 billion purchase of Mint Mobile, the carrier partially owned by Ryan Reynolds, in a deal that similarly carried over existing packages for Mint customers.

It was previously rumored that US Cellular’s business would be carved up between T-Mobile and Verizon to deter regulators from blocking the deal, according to The Wall Street Journal, but Verizon hasn’t yet announced anything related to US Cellular.

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