Everybody has one. Well, almost everybody.
The Pew Research Center reported last year that 96% of Americans have a cellphone or smartphone. Which means the merger of T-Mobile and Sprint — a deal that moved significantly closer to completion Tuesday — will have a ripple effect across the country.
A U.S. District Court judge batted away the last significant challenge to the planned merger when he ruled against a lawsuit filed by state attorneys general who argued that the deal would hurt consumers. Now the millions of people who receive bills from Sprint or T-Mobile are wondering what happens next.
What will happen to customers of T-Mobile and Sprint?
T-Mobile and Sprint have said that they will try to close the deal as early as April 1, creating a supersize carrier (called, wait for it, T-Mobile) with more than 100 million customers.
The two companies still have one last hurdle to clear: the California Public Utilities Commission, which is still reviewing the merger.
When (or if) the deal closes, T-Mobile customers will remain with the service. It is unclear what, if anything, will change for them.
For Sprint customers, it’s a little more complicated.
The majority will transfer to T-Mobile plans as the brand is absorbed. But users of Sprint’s prepaid brands, including Boost Mobile, Virgin Mobile and Sprint prepaid, will become customers of Dish Network, a satellite TV company based in Colorado.
Wait. How did a TV company get involved in all this?
As T-Mobile and Sprint executives were seeking the approval of federal regulators over the past two years, they agreed to a concession: selling off multiple assets, including Sprint’s prepaid business, to Dish.
Before it builds out its own telecommunications infrastructure, Dish will rent networking services from T-Mobile in the coming years. Eventually, the company would become the fourth-largest wireless carrier in the country. At least, that’s the plan.
Dish has shown serious interest in going into the phone business before: It made a bid for Sprint in 2013.
Will prices go up?
T-Mobile and Sprint have both said they do not plan to raise prices for customers in the short term. In a statement Tuesday, T-Mobile said it would deliver existing plans “at the same or better prices for three years.”
After that, who knows.
Critics of the deal have argued that it would result in less competition among telecommunications giants, which would lead to higher cellphone bills.
Back in 2013, T-Mobile won millions of customers from AT&T and Verizon when it discontinued traditional two-year contracts, got rid of early-termination fees and made international roaming free.
Then its prices began to rise again. It now offers unlimited data plans starting at $60 a month for one line.
Does this mean better wireless service?
T-Mobile and Sprint have continually promised that a deal between them would result in wider, better services and an accelerated rollout of a new fifth-generation cellular network, known as 5G, which will let people download entire movies in seconds.
In December, T-Mobile launched the first phase of its nationwide 5G network, covering 200 million people and more than 1 million square miles, and said that a merger would help it build on this framework. It has said that its 5G will be available at no extra cost.
The companies said in a statement Tuesday that their full 5G network would reach speeds up to five times faster than the current network in a few years and 15 times faster by 2024. They also promised to deploy “a higher quality and more robust network for rural America” and to deliver the network to 99% of the United States within six years.
AT&T and Verizon have said their 5G networks will be accessible nationwide this year.
The majority of consumers have phones that work on 4G. They would need to upgrade to 5G-compatible handsets.
Those looking to leave the new T-Mobile will be left with two main choices: AT&T or Verizon. When those carriers have one fewer competitor, they may raise prices, too.