Softbank's Son Discusses Ambitions for Sprint, Web Growth, U.S. Rank

By Michelle Maisto  |  Posted 2014-03-13 Print this article Print

"I went to China a few months ago, and I though, 'Oh, in Beijing it is a cloudy day today.' But it was not cloudy because of the actual weather. The air is polluted. Chinese people already know that. But if you live in Beijing every day, it's almost like an everyday phenomenon … You forget how the sky was blue. So, if you live in the States with the mobile phone … many of you have already experienced that windmill signal [turning]. You don't see that in Japan anymore. But you see that windmill symbol on your smartphone page all the time [in the United States]. That's not a good environment. It's like living in Beijing air. You have to remember the blue sky, okay?"

4. Americans are paying more for less.

"Even though the U.S. is number 15 in the connectivity speed, the price is number two in the world. Only right after Canada," said Son. He added that people often respond to this statistic by saying that Americans use a lot more data than consumers elsewhere, so he decided to check the facts.

"The Japanese actually use 50 percent more per person. Fifty percent more data on the smartphone. Fifty percent more! … and Americans pay 1.7 times more than Japanese."

So, mobile Internet speeds are slowing down, and the prices are going up, Son said.

"Everywhere else, every other country, the price is going down because of the competition. There's only one country in the major market … [where] price continues to go up, and it is the United States."

5. The digital divide needs to be closed.

"There's a digital divide based on the wealth, the richness of each household by income level. If you are poorer, you have less connectivity. That's a fact. … Mobile is a substitute for that gap. … But there is still a gap. There is still a digital divide. Not only the income and education, but geographically there is a digital divide. [In Texas] more than 30 percent of households have no availability to access broadband. It's not available. Even if you want to pay, it's not available."

Additionally, in poorer areas in the United States, home and schools have more limited access to broadband infrastructure.

"Electricity is available for every household. Highways—the street is available for [everyone]. But in the 21st century, the most important infrastructure is not available to everybody," Son continued. "There is a digital divide. The U.S. has been the inventor of the Internet technology, but it's falling behind."  

6. Son banged the table and instigated change.

Back when Japan had the most expensive wireless data in the world, Son said he had a meeting with the prime minister of Japan, the CEO of NTT—which was owned by the government and had a vast majority of the market share—other ministers and the CEOs of some private sector companies. Son asked the prime minister whether he wanted to save Japan or save NTT.

"I banged the table. 'Give me your answer! I don't need any explanation or any logic, just give me one answer, which is more important? The country or this company?"

The prime minister said Japan, and Son answered that it was necessary, then, to deregulate.

"He said, 'Okay, let's change the regulation. Let's free up Japan. Let's bring the competition.' And that's the moment Japanese history got changed."

7. Passion changed Japan.

No one wanted to take on the government. Eventually—after reviving Softbank, which lost 99 percent of its stock price during the "net bubble crash"—Son decided he would take on NTT and acquired Vodafone Japan for $20 billion.

"That's a crazy, crazy thing for Japan, but I had a vision: We have to create the network, Japan should be the number-one network in speed of connectivity, the price should be competitive. … Japan changed drastically from the most expensive and slowest country into the lowest price and highest speed. So one crazy passion and focus [and deep] concentration could bring a change in the country," said Son.


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