With rural wireless carrier USCellular putting itself up for sale, T-Mobile has been floated as a potential acquirer.
T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert offered a vague hint when asked about whether he would consider accelerating his rural strategy if an asset were available.
“Maybe, but I like our Plan A a lot,” Sievert said at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia + Technology conference on Wednesday. He added that “the hurdles for M&A would be high.”
Although Sievert nor the analyst who questioned him mentioned USCellular, the Uncarrier has been named by investors and analysts as a leading contender if the company was interested.
A deal would give T-Mobile additional spectrum and wireless infrastructure assets from USCellular, which struggled to compete against the larger players in a game that has gotten increasingly expensive to play. Those assets would bolster its efforts to further expand into rural markets.
T-Mobile declined to comment.
T-Mobile has been working towards expanding rural coverage since 2021 and grew its footprint from 13% to 16.5%, Sievert said. The company strives to grow to 20% of rural areas by 2025. Sievert said 30% of new customers are choosing T-Mobile, which is second to Verizon in rural markets.
T-Mobile’s network covers 295 million people and offers 5G on its 600 MHz spectrum. By the end of this year, it aims to expand coverage to 300 million people with its 2.5 GHz “mid-band” spectrum and add hundreds of new stores over the next five years. T-Mobile has a stronger foothold in rural areas as competitors like Verizon and AT&T focused more on building 5G networks near cities.
As seen with its acquisition of Sprint, T-Mobile was after the network, spectrum, and customers. The company increased its available spectrum by shutting down Sprint’s network and encouraging customers to switch to T-Mobile while grandfathering out Sprint plans.
In August, USCellular said it would “initiate a process to explore strategic alternatives” for the company, business speak for putting itself up for sale. The assets, including 4,300 cell towers, will be put up for sale. The company has 5 million customers across 21 states. The company had long held out against buyouts even as other small carriers were scooped up by larger providers.