A Mad Money Round-Table
The second part of the keynote saw Jim Kramer, host of CNBC's "Mad Money," appear onstage to host a round-table with the mobile industry's biggest CEOs: Hesse, Verizon Wireless' Daniel Mead, and AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets President and CEO Ralph de la Vega. In keeping with his aggressive personality, Kramer charged head-on at the elephant. "You certainly ruined everybody's Sunday," he told de la Vega, referring to the day AT&T announced its T-Mobile acquisition.Kramer then turned to Hesse, asking him what he thought of AT&T's announcement. "My opinion doesn't matter. I think the FCC and the DOJ ..." Hesse replied, referring in the latter case to the Department of Justice. The room burst into laughter. Then it was Mead's turn. "We're certainly very interested in what's going on," he said. "If you look at the history of our company, we built a foundation of great spectrum through a great many acquisitions." Kramer asked whether Verizon had considered acquiring T-Mobile. "We did think through that," Mead said. "We didn't think there was a need. We're extremely confident of where we're at." On March 20, AT&T unveiled plans to acquire T-Mobile for $39 billion in cash and stock. That would make AT&T by far the largest carrier in the United States, but analysts feel the carrier will face substantial hurdles in getting the acquisition approved by government regulators. "So far as regulatory oversight of AT&T/T-Mobile goes, I expect the FCC will be particularly careful," Charles King, principal analyst of Pund-IT, wrote in a March 21 e-mail to eWEEK. "Not only does the deal effectively consolidate a huge part of the U.S. wireless market in the hands of a vendor, but AT&T's wireless plan offerings and costs differ significantly from T-Mobile's." Politics could also play a substantial role. "The FCC under President Obama has been considerably more vigilant than it was during previous administrations," King added. "AT&T may be gambling that the antiregulatory mood which pervades the GOP and the contentious run up to the 2012 elections will create enough turbulence to let the deal proceed." Ahead of CTIA, AT&T's rivals were already beginning to protest the deal's size and scope. "A combined AT&T and T-Mobile would be almost three times the size of Sprint, the third-largest wireless competitor," read a March 20 statement from Sprint, as reprinted on AllThingsD. "If approved, the merger would result in a wireless industry dominated overwhelmingly by two vertically integrated companies that control almost 80 percent of the U.S. wireless post-paid market." Based on the friendly aggression demonstrated by those mobility CEOs onstage-a certain laugher-filled hostility-the next several quarters' worth of competition could be especially fierce.
The AT&T leader suggested the "need for additional spectrum" helped drive the deal with T-Mobile. "Few things in life grow 8,000 percent over four years," he said, before adding that the potential acquisition "helps alleviate the crunch by allowing the networks to be combined and more efficiently utilize that spectrum."