Executives at T-Mobile have discussed the possibility of acquiring prepaid wireless phone service Mint Mobile, according to a report published this week.
On Wednesday, financial news outlet Bloomberg said officials at both companies had discussed a potential acquisition, though no firm deal has been reached, and talks could ultimately result in nothing between the two.
Reports of a potential acquisition come several months after the website Light Reading noted that Mint Mobile’s parent company, Ultra Mobile, was weighing the possibility of putting itself up for sale. An acquisition would have included Mint Mobile, Ultra Mobile and another brand, Plum Mobile, the website said. It was not clear from Bloomberg’s reporting if that was the deal T-Mobile was exploring.
Founded in 2016, Mint Mobile is known in the prepaid world for its aggressive pricing and features. Customers purchase several months of service upfront, at rates that are typically lower than what traditional phone companies like T-Mobile offer to postpaid subscribers.
The no-frills service has made a name for itself in recent years thanks to its spokesperson, actor Ryan Reynolds, who has a minority ownership stake in the company. The commercials self-describe as low budget productions, with Mint purporting that it takes its typical marketing budget and reinvests it in the service and its customers.
T-Mobile is also known to be customer-centric in terms of pricing and features. Both postpaid and prepaid customers have access to flat-rate monthly plans that are inclusive of taxes and fees, and they’re typically lower than what rivals Verizon and AT&T charge. T-Mobile also includes a number of other customer perks like unlimited international roaming, free access to streaming TV services and complementary Wi-Fi on domestic flights.
Mint Mobile and T-Mobile have for years enjoyed a good working relationship: As a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), Mint Mobile doesn’t actually build, operate or maintain cell phone towers. Instead, it leases tower connections from T-Mobile — so Mint Mobile customers are basically using the T-Mobile network whenever they make a phone call or browse the web using their smartphones.
All three major wireless carriers operate their own prepaid subsidiaries: T-Mobile has Metro (formerly MetroPCS), Verizon operates Visible and AT&T owns Cricket Wireless.
Of the three, Verizon has been the most-aggressive in acquiring third-party prepaid companies to build its business: In September 2020, Verizon said it would acquire Tracfone Wireless and its subsidiaries (including Walmart Mobile, SafeLink, Simple Mobile, Straight Talk and Clearway) for $6 billion. The deal was finalized last year.
T-Mobile has been more focused on building out its fifth-generation (5G) wireless network, and has made strategic acquisitions to that end. The company acquired Sprint in August 2020, a move that gave T-Mobile access to Sprint’s licensed spectrum that it ultimately used for its 5G network.
With the Sprint merger behind it and the 5G network at cruising altitude, T-Mobile now appears ready to build on the prepaid part of its business. Less clear is how much Mint Mobile could go for, should T-Mobile move forward with an acquisition.