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Main article: Sprint

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Los Angeles-based ‘deep tech’ investment firm Riot Ventures is raising a $75M fund

23:26 | 13 February

Riot Ventures, the Los Angeles-based, early-stage and deep technology investment firm is going out to market to raise a $75 million second fund to finance the development of startups in LA and beyond, according to fundraising documents viewed by TechCrunch.

The firm has largely flown under the radar, but it has been investing in startups applying innovations in automation, artificial intelligence, computer vision, computational biology, material sciences and robotics to industrial products and processes for the past two years.

Its first fund was a modest $10 million vehicle that the firm’s co-founders, Stephen Marcus and Will Coffield, raised to test the thesis their fledgling fund was exploring. Chiefly, they thought that robotics and machine learning were going to transform everything from aerospace to industrial manufacturing and retail, and they saw Los Angeles as a unique location from which to deploy capital.

Since the initial fund launched in 2017, the companies in Riot’s portfolio — including a number of later-stage special purpose investments made in companies like the point-of-sale tablet manufacturer Toast; the metal 3D printing equipment manufacturer Desktop Metal; and Shield AI, a stealthy drone company that works in the defense industry — are now worth roughly $16 billion.

In all, Riot has invested around $60 million through its direct investments and special purpose vehicles. But it’s not the capital that sets the firm apart, according to the pitch deck viewed by TechCrunch.

Marcus has a long background in angel investing and company creation. He’s a six-time serial entrepreneur whose sold telecom companies to acquirers like American Tower, Sprint and National Grid. Meanwhile, Coffield has spent the past several years building out a network in Los Angeles and eight years in the venture capital industry.

However, the firm places its emphasis on its newest partner, Jenna Bryant, a recruiter who spent the past years building out teams for some of the biggest names in the Los Angeles technology and entertainment industries, including Walt Disney Co., Oculus, Snap, Tinder and others.

“We actively recruit for our portfolio companies which enables us to meet a large swath of highly technical people,” the firm writes in its pitch deck. “We use this pool to win deals, make our companies more valuable, and find future hard tech founders. This is a core asset and function for our firm led by our Partner Jenna Bryant.”

Just as important as its recruitment practice is its position in Los Angeles, which is emerging as a hotbed for talent in robotics, rocketry, drones and defense. That’s borne out by investments in companies like Shield AI and Elementary Robotics — two companies in the Riot portfolio based in Southern California.

 


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Sprint/T-Mobile merger gets federal judge approval

21:36 | 11 February

The U.S. mobile landscape is on track to look a whole lot different. A hotly contested $26 billion deal between T-Mobile and Sprint just got the go ahead from a U.S. district court judge. The merger would combine the country’s third and fourth largest mobile carriers, effectively reducing the number of key carriers from four down to three.

Critics of the deal, including attorneys general from more than one dozen states, have expressed concern that such a deal would diminish competition in the market. T-Mobile and Sprint, on the other hand, have argued that such a deal would actually make the market more competitive and give a combined company a better chance of battling with (TechCrunch parent company) Verizon and AT&T on the 5G front.

U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero, it seems, sided with the latter. He lauded T-Mobile’s business practices in a statement. “T-Mobile has redefined itself over the past decade as a maverick that has spurred the two largest players in its industry to make numerous pro-consumer changes,” Judge Marrero wrote.

The deal has already cleared a number of key hurdles, including Justice Department approval. Involved states, however, are considering an appeal. “From the start, this merger has been about massive corporate profits over all else, and despite the companies’ false claims, this deal will endanger wireless subscribers where it hurts most: their wallets,” NY Attorney General Attorney Letitia James said in a statement.

 


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Fourteen attorneys general will challenge T-Mobile and Sprint merger in court this week

19:43 | 9 December

After months of statements, the biggest challenge yet to T-Mobile and Sprint’s proposed merger kicks off today in a Manhattan court. The trial is the result of pushback from a coalition of attorneys general of 13 states and the District of Columbia, who have raised flags over the proposed $26 billion merging of the country’s third- and fourth-largest carriers.

“Today we stand on the side of meaningful competition and affordable options for consumers,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement provided to TechCrunch. “Our airwaves belong to the public, who are entitled to more, not less. This merger would hurt the most vulnerable people among us– leaving consumers with fewer choices and higher prices. We’re fighting in court with a 14-state strong coalition for then, and for all Americans, and we’re confident the law is on our side.”

The AGs contend that such a merger will decrease competition in the U.S. telecom market, by knocking the number of major carriers down to three. T-Mobile and Sprint, on the other hand, have argued that it will do the opposite, suggesting that the companies’ pooled powers would better equip them to take on Verizon and AT&T in the rush to 5G.

Over the summer, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai issued an order essentially arguing with the carriers and suggested the deal move forward. “The evidence conclusively demonstrates that this transaction will bring fast 5G wireless service to many more Americans and help close the digital divide in rural areas,” he said in August.

The trial is expected to last three weeks, per The Wall Street Journal, kicking off with today’s opening statements. Sprint Chairman Marcelo Claure and soon-to-be-former T-Mobile CEO John Legere will take the stand to make their case against the AGs.

 


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T-Mobile opens pre-orders on two 5G phones as low-band network goes live

19:23 | 2 December

The 5G question has long been carts and horses. The next-generation wireless network has always been an inevitability, of course, but the rollout has always felt a bit piecemeal. T-Mobile, to its credit, is looking to flip the switch all at once (kind of), launching a “nationwide” deployment of 5G to a coverage area it says will reach 200 million of the U.S.’s 327 million residents.

The 600MHz low-band network goes live today, fulfilling the promise of 5G in 2019 with nearly a month to spare. That coincides with the pre-order of two 5G-enabled handsets, from OnePlus and Samsung. The OnePlus 7T Pro 5G McLaren Edition, at least, is a T-Mobile exclusive here in the States.

It’s a premium as far as OnePlus goes, but still arrives at the (relatively) low price of $900. Compare that to the $1,300 Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G. Both are officially going on sale on Friday, and should be able to connect to the new network at launch.

T-Mobile’s clearly being more deliberate in its roll out here, fighting the urge to plant its flag. Instead, the carrier’s network will be available in wider swaths of land versus the competition’s neighborhood to neighborhood approach. And while the network isn’t expected to be as fast as other solutions, it should reach indoors better — a pretty key differentiator.

As CNET notes, it’s still fairly piecemeal in certain respects — the existing millimeter 5G wave network won’t work with the new devices. Nor will older devices work with the new network. Much of this move appears to be in anticipation of T-Mobile’s merger with Sprint.

The ability to compete with AT&T and Verizon on the 5G front has always been the key selling point of such a merger. Though reducing the field from four players down to three to increase competition has always seemed a dubious claim, at best.

 


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T-Mobile sugar-coats Sprint merger with promises of free data — but only if it’s approved

22:52 | 7 November

The planned $26 billion merger between T-Mobile and Sprint has been approved by the Justice Department and the FCC, but it’s not a sure thing yet. To sweeten the deal, T-Mobile is dangling three big free and cheap data initiatives that will only go through if the merger does. A little sugar helps the medicine go down.

Contingent on creating the “New T-Mobile,” there are three big moves planned, all of which to be fair sound great:

  • 10 years of free 5G for all police, fire, emergency medical services, and other first responders countrywide
  • Free wireless service and reduced cost devices to 10 million disconnected households in U.S. and Puerto Rico
  • New $15/month prepaid plan with unlimited talk and text and 2GB of data

Obviously these are all aimed at making it seem like T-Mobile is concerned with the public good. And no one is disputing that these programs would help a lot of people out. It just feels like such a transparent play to balance out the anti-competitive risks of the merger.

FCC Commissioner Brendan Stark speculated in his dissent from yesterday’s approval decision that the merger would lead to three 900-pound gorillas that would “divide up the market, increase prices, and compete only for the most lucrative customers.”

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, on the other hand, asserts that the merger “will provide New T-Mobile with the scale and spectrum resources necessary to deploy a robust 5G network across the United States,” and make it competitive with Verizon and AT&T. (Disclosure: TechCrunch is owned by Verizon Media, but this does not affect our coverage.)

Although the regulatory hurdles are out of the way, the merger still faces a lawsuit from a collection of states who oppose the deal. That’s due to go to court soon, but may be either dismissed or delayed due to the fact that the complaints were filed before the Justice and FCC approvals, and the stipulations that came with.

 


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FCC approves T-Mobile/Sprint merger despite serious concerns

22:20 | 5 November

The FCC has given its stamp of approval to T-Mobile and Sprint’s proposed merger, saying the deal will “enhance competition” and hasten 5G deployment. Those opposed say the merger defies common sense, creating a triumvirate of mobile giants that will “divide up the market, increase prices, and compete only for the most lucrative customers.”

The two mobile companies have been attempting to merge for years, ostensibly in order to compete with the considerably larger AT&T and Verizon. (Disclosure: TechCrunch is owned by Verizon Media, but this does not affect our coverage in the slightest.)

Previous attempts at deals were blocked more or less on the grounds that while a consolidated market might make the new T-Mobile/Sprint entity more competitive, it would be a net negative for consumers, who would have less choice than ever.

This latest foray has met with more success, and the Department of Justice approved it in July. The DoJ’s proposed remedies for competition problems created by the merge apparently gave the FCC “further confidence” in its approval, which Chairman Ajit Pai signaled earlier this year — interestingly, before those remedies were proposed.

Among other things, Sprint must sell its Boost Mobile brand, and T-Mobile must sell its interest in Dish Network. The hope is that Dish, Boost, and a few other players will somehow band together to form a new insurgent wireless network that will rise to compete with its former masters.

Sound a bit far-fetched? FCC Commissioner Rosenworcel thinks so as well.

Commissioner Rosenworcel at her confirmation hearing.

“Instead of promoting vigorous competition among providers, today’s order justifies increased concentration by jerry-rigging a new provider dependent on the government dictating who sells what to whom and when,” she said in a statement.”

Commissioner Starks indicated his dissent on other grounds as well, specifically recent charges that Sprint has been irresponsibly deploying funds from the Commission’s Lifeline program for low-income mobile subscribers.

“Sprint may be responsible for the most egregious violations of our Lifeline rules in FCC history,” Starks wrote in a statement. “Our review should have been held in abeyance following the Chairman’s recent announcement of an investigation into Sprint’s alleged misappropriation of Lifeline support for 885,000 ineligible accounts. If substantiated, this would represent the misuse of nearly 10 percent of the funds for the entire program.”

More than anything else, though, critics remain skeptical of the basic idea that consolidation will produce increased competition. In fact the Justice Department even thinks that may happen, which is why it is requiring the carriers to hastily assemble a new competitor out of whatever parts are left laying around, including some still being used by T-Mobile and others.

“The proposed transaction is exactly the type of merger that the Justice Department and the Commission have discouraged and rejected in the past: one that would harm competition and result in higher prices and poorer service, particularly for the most vulnerable consumers,” wrote Starks.

Others are concerned that the deal seemed to be a done deal even before Justice handed down its recommendations to improve competition following the merger.

“The FCC majority prejudged the merits of this merger two months before the Justice Department found the combination of T-Mobile and Sprint to be anticompetitive and required the creation of a new fourth competitor to pass legal muster. Despite this radical change in the merger, Chairman Pai has refused to put the new arrangement out for public comment,” noted Gigi Sohn, former general counsel for the FCC.

“Three of my colleagues agreed to this transaction months ago without having any legal, engineering, or economic analysis from the agency before us,” wrote Rosenworcel. “The procedural irregularities that have plagued the FCC’s review of this transaction make it difficult to ensure this agency’s findings are credible—especially when in so many key respects they are at odds with the findings of the Department of Justice.”

Proponents of the deal lean heavily on promises being made that “New T-Mobile,” as it is referred to in the decision, will use its new position to quickly and efficiently deploy 5G to many markets it might not otherwise have reached.

“This transaction will provide New T-Mobile with the scale and spectrum resources necessary to deploy a robust 5G network across the United States,” said Chairman Pai in his statement regarding the decision. “New T-Mobile will make the mobile broadband market more competitive in large swaths of rural America where neither Sprint nor T-Mobile is currently a strong competitor to AT&T and Verizon.”

Pai says that the idea that reducing the number of major carriers from four to three will be harmful to competition is a “simplistic, backward-looking claim.” The truth, he says, is that in many places this merger will increase the number of competitors from two (Verizon and AT&T) to three as T-Mobile enters the market. That’s fair speculation to be sure, but as Commissioner Starks points out, that idea too is simplistic. The truth is that reducing the number of major carriers will likely have serious and immediate negative effects as well as well as Pai’s imagined long-term benefits.

“In the short term, this merger will result in the loss of potentially thousands of jobs. In the long term, it will establish a market of three giant wireless carriers with every incentive to divide up the market, increase prices, and compete only for the most lucrative customers,” Starks writes.

While Justice and FCC approval were the largest obstacles to the proposed merger, much still has to occur before Sprint customers find their phones switching over to the T-Mobile network. More than a dozen states have opposed the merger and filed lawsuits, though those might be mooted under the new proposed scheme. Still, state-level challenges are no joke and may further delay the merger, especially if they are elevated to the federal level.

 


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OnePlus’ second 5G phone will be a T-Mobile exclusive

19:18 | 23 October

OnePlus’ 5G strategy has marked something of a shift for a company that has traditionally prided itself in a slow and steady approach to new features. Following the arrival of the OnePlus 7 Pro 5G this summer, the company is announcing its second 5G device for the U.S. market.

This time, it’s opted for its longer-time carrier partner, T-Mobile. Though soon enough, the distinction between the U.S.’s third and fourth place wireless carriers may be moot. For now, however, the OnePlus 7T Pro McLaren Edition is a T-Mobile exclusive here in the States.

For the record, the 7T Pro and the new McLaren Edition are pretty similar, though the latter gets a flashier color scheme and some pretty beefy specs, including an extremely generous 12GB of RAM.

Along with being OnePlus’ second 5G handset, it’s also the second T-Mobile device to support the next-gen network, following the already announced (but not yet released) Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G. As for the state of T-Mobile’s 5G roll out, the company promises to “cover 200 million people nationwide this year.”

 


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HTC’s new CEO discusses the phonemaker’s future

01:00 | 5 October

On September 17, HTC announced that cofounder Cher Wang would be stepping down as CEO. In her place, Yves Maitre stepped into the role of Chief Executive, after more than a decade at French telecom giant, Orange.

It’s a tough job at an even tougher time. The move comes on the tail of five consecutive quarterly losses and major layoffs, including a quarter of the company’s staff, which were let go in July of last year.

It’s a far fall for a company that comprised roughly 11 percent of global smartphone sales, some eight years ago. These days, HTC is routinely relegated to the “other” column when these figures are published.

All of this is not to say that the company doesn’t have some interesting irons in the fire. With Vive, HTC has demonstrated its ability to offer a cutting edge VR platform, while Exodus has tapped into an interest in exploring the use of blockchain technologies for mobile devices.

Of course, neither of these examples show any sign of displacing HTC’s once-booming mobile device sales. And this January’s $1.1 billion sale of a significant portion of its hardware division to Google has left many wondering whether it has much gas left in the mobile tank.

With Wang initially scheduled to appear on stage at Disrupt this week, the company ultimately opted to have Maitre sit in on the panel instead. In preparation for the conversation, we sat down with the executive to discuss his new role and future of the struggling Taiwanese hardware company.

5G, XR and the future of the HTC brand


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Ajit Pai formally recommends T-Mobile/Sprint merger approval

18:15 | 14 August

Ajit Pai has long signaled that he would approve a T-Mobile/ class="crunchbase-link" href="https://crunchbase.com/organization/sprint-nextel" target="_blank" data-type="organization" data-entity="sprint-nextel">Sprint merger, but today the FCC Chairman made it official. In spite of widespread opposition suggesting that the combining of the country’s third and fourth largest carriers would reduce competition in the marketplace, Pai takes the stance that such a move would actual promote competition.

“After one of the most exhaustive merger reviews in Commission history, the evidence conclusively demonstrates that this transaction will bring fast 5G wireless service to many more Americans and help close the digital divide in rural areas,” Pai said in a statement. “Moreover, with the conditions included in this draft Order, the merger will promote robust competition in mobile broadband, put critical mid-band spectrum to use, and bring new competition to the fixed broadband market. I thank our transaction team for the thorough and careful analysis reflected in this draft Order and hope that my colleagues will vote to approve it.”

Pai’s statement echoes that of many conservatives on the topic. While T-Mobile and Sprint are third and fourth place, respectively, AT&T and Verizon are significantly ahead in terms of subscriber bases. Pai and other have suggested that combining the two under the T-Mobile umbrella would help the carriers get a leg up when it comes to competing on a 5G roll out.

Developing…

 


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Oregon joins lawsuit opposing T-Mobile/Sprint merger

19:03 | 13 August

Oregon this week became the 15th state (plus the District of Columbia) to sign onto a lawsuit seeking to stop a T-Mobile/Sprint merger. The suit, co-signed by 16 attorneys general, argues that a merger between the country’s third and fourth largest carriers would greatly reduce competition in the wireless industry.

“It’s important that Oregon join other states in opposing the Sprint -T-Mobile merger,” said Oregon AG Ellen Rosenblum said in a statement. “If left unchallenged, the current plan will result in reduced access to affordable wireless service in Oregon — and higher prices. Neither is acceptable.”

Texas joined the suit earlier this month, marking one of only two Republican AGs who have signed onto the deal. Conservative voices have largely come out in favor of a merger, suggesting that by joining forces the new company (also named T-Mobile) would increase competition for AT&T and Verizon by getting a leg up in the race to implement 5G.

New York State AG Letitia James says the signee has added “momentum” to push again the merger, which was green lit by the U.S. Department of Justice in late July.

“Oregon’s addition to our lawsuit keeps our momentum going, and ensures that there isn’t a single region of this country that doesn’t oppose this anticompetitive megamerger,” said James. “We welcome Attorney General Rosenblum to our 16-member coalition that now includes states representing almost half of the U.S. population. We remain committed to blocking the merger of T-Mobile and Sprint because it would bad for consumers, bad for workers, and bad for innovation.”

 


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