Just Crazy Enough to Work — 5 New Buyers for T-Mobile
Even if the Justice Department axes AT&T's deal, more suitors will come a-callin' for T-Mobile. Here's a look at some likely -- and interesting, if unlikely -- future buyers.

T-Mobile dealWe learned this week that Uncle Sam is less than pleased with the AT&T (NYSE:T) plan to purchase T-Mobile. This changes little for AT&T and Verizon (NYSE:VZ), of course, since the mobile market already is rapidly becoming a two-horse race. Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) hasn’t turned a quarterly profit since early 2007, and T-Mobile has lost some 150,000 subscribers so far in 2011.

In fact, the Justice Department’s move to step in will do little to “save” T-Mobile. In reality, the only thing it will do is ensure someone other than Verizon or AT&T will wind up purchasing the $39 billion wireless carrier.

So who else is in the market to buy T-Mobile? I have a few suitors in mind — though most would take some accounting acrobatics or gutsy (perhaps crazy) strategic shifts:

Comcast

Verizon FiOS and AT&T U-Verse have been beating up cable internet providers like Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA). And with the rise of Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) and other streaming video alternatives, even entrenched leaders like Comcast are biting their fingernails about how things will look 10 years from now. The solution is to take the fight to AT&T, Verizon and the mobile carriers that have started to wear away the Internet service market.

Comcast doesn’t have the cash to buy T-Mobile on its own, with “only” $2 billion in cash on its balance sheet and a hefty $38 billion in debt — up significantly from $28 billion a year ago. However, some kind of strategic alliance with other cable providers could make things interesting.

Apple

Yes, Wall Street is littered with inane rumors about what Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) will buy. But it’s fun to speculate about what the creative minds at Apple will do next — and the company’s $28 billion in cash and short-term investments gives it plenty to play with. The addition of T-Mobile would be intriguing, as Apple is all about owning the entire experience on its devices and its iconic iPhone still is at the mercy of third-party networks. Anyone who has read tech blogs or customer message boards about AT&T’s network should know that in many respects, the iPhone became a smash hit in spite of AT&T not delivering stellar support.

T-Mobile could move that service — and revenue — in house. Of course, Apple doesn’t tend to make big acquisitions and prefers to build things in house … but the capital expense of a 4G network and the logistics of rolling such service out seems to make this one of the few cases when it makes more sense to go outside Silicon Valley for a pre-made solution.


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