But how will it happen? Dish has the choice of simply buying T-Mobile, assuming that majority owner Deutsche Telekom decides to sell, or of acquiring T-Mobile in a highly leveraged buyout. The problem with a leveraged buyout is that it would leave T-Mobile with vast amounts of debt which could hinder its current level of aggressive growth.
And then there's the problem of blending T-Mobile's culture with that of Dish. Charlie Ergen is a gambler. He's a larger-than-life figure that dominates the space he's in. T-Mobile CEO John Legere is also a forceful executive who has been the motivation behind T-Mobile's "uncarrier" approach to wireless marketing and in the process is transforming the wireless industry. Could Legere and Ergen work together?
Meanwhile, there's Sprint. Dish and Sprint have become something of an item now that the companies are working together on an LTE fixed wireless service that would bring broadband to customers in their homes and offices. Current plans for that service call for a launch in Corpus Christi, Texas, in 2014. Sprint and Dish are also cooperating on a spectrum auction planned for 2015 with Sprint bowing out of the auction to let Dish buy the spectrum.
Where all of this will end is unclear. Now that T-Mobile has turned the corner and is growing faster than any other U.S. wireless carrier, there's every incentive for DT to hang on to its U.S. subsidiary and let it grow. On the other hand, T-Mobile's success lately means that it's worth a lot more than it was when Sprint first started thinking about buying it.
But T-Mobile's success also means that it would cost Dish more money than it might have a year or two earlier. Can Dish afford to buy T-Mobile without a highly leveraged buyout and lots of debt? That seems less likely as T-Mobile's success continues to grow. But is there a third option? Could Dish buy part of T-Mobile and operate it with DT as a joint venture, sort of like what Verizon and Vodafone did when they started Verizon Wireless?
There's a lot to be said for T-Mobile as a joint venture. It could help DT deal with its promise to maintain control of T-Mobile for another year, which happened when it bought MetroPCS, and it could help Dish ease into being a wireless carrier while also giving T-Mobile access to all that Dish spectrum. Of course, such a move would leave Sprint out of the picture, but Sprint was never really in the picture, anyway.