Sprint said in talks with Charter, Comcast on wireless deal

'It is clear that industry consolidation is likely to heat up'

Comcast Corp. and Charter Communications Inc., the two largest U.S. cable companies, met with executives at Sprint Corp. in the past month to discuss reselling wireless services, people familiar with the matter said.

The more likely scenario is the cable giants strike a deal that lets them resell services on Sprint’s wireless network, the people said, asking not to be identified as the details are private. Another topic discussed was Comcast and Charter jointly buying Sprint, though that scenario is less likely, one of the people said.

Comcast and Charter are entering the wireless business in hopes of adding another product to their suite of services and keeping subscribers from leaving. The cable companies are interested in securing a wireless resale agreement with Sprint that includes more favorable terms than what they currently have with Sprint and Verizon Communications Inc., people said. Last fall, Charter’s largest shareholder, John Malone, suggested that cable companies could join forces to buy a wireless provider like Deutsche Telekom AG’s T-Mobile US Inc.

“It is clear that industry consolidation is likely to heat up and that Sprint could play a critical role,” Walt Piecyk, an analyst with BTIG LLC, wrote on a note Tuesday.

Sprint has the largest airwave holdings of all the U.S. carriers, which is an attractive asset as mobile video consumption eats up network capacity. But Sprint has also had a decade of losses and carries about $40 billion in debt. Any deal between Sprint and the cable giants would undermine the likelihood of a tie-up between Sprint and T-Mobile US, an option executives from both companies have lauded as offering substantial synergies.

Deutsche Telekom, which owns about 64 percent in T-Mobile US, fell 2.6 percent to 16.19 euros a share at 4:04 p.m. in Frankfurt. Sprint climbed 2.4 percent in early New York trading. Tower operators American Tower Corp., Crown Castle International Corp. and SBA Communications Corp. also rose.

Sprint, which has been battling losses, has fallen to fourth in the U.S. market and controlling shareholder SoftBank Group Corp. is keen to pursue a deal with third-ranked T-Mobile that could boost its scale and subscribers. While Sprint has put discussions for a potential merger with T-Mobile on hold while it talks to Comcast and Charter, negotiations could re-open, one of the people familiar with the matter said.

The Wall Street Journal earlier reported the talks between Sprint and the cable companies. Representatives of SoftBank Group Corp., Sprint, Comcast and Charter declined to comment.

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