Apple’s success of the past decade has generated a lot of things: fame, love and hate, but nothing more tangible than cold hard cash. Apple’s cash reserves stand at an astounding $76 billion dollars. That’s incredible. In recent times, Apple’s cash stash has been subject to various speculation. Should they spend it, or sit on it? In this edition of Bold Moves, I propose that Apple lawyer-up, shell out some of their loot, and purchase this nation’s 3rd largest wireless carrier, Sprint.
Calling Sprint the 3rd largest wireless carrier in America is much akin to the the title “tallest member of the lollipop-guild.” Although we have four major carriers, the industry is most accurately described as a duopoly. Verizon and AT&T stand atop the hill, arms locked and butting heads, while Sprint and T-Mobile mope around the incline. Everyone has taken a tumble since 2008, but out of the top three*, none have fared worse than Sprint in walking back up that hill. Sprint has seen the value of its shares drop precipitously from approximately $20 a share back in July 2008, to less than $5 at the time of this writing. While the Big Two have made strides in recovering, Sprint has done little to increase its value since it hit its low nearly three years ago on November 17th, 2008. With a market cap of a little over $10 billion, Apple could easily snatch up this wireless carrier and spent billions more building out its infrastructure.
The move would be more than Apple just thumping its wallet, it would be a sage on several levels. First and foremost, we’re starting to realize that Apple intends to put wireless data on all of its devices. We’ve heard rumors about the next iPod Touch having 3G data, and we’ve also recently seen an old MacBook Pro sporting a 3G radio. It would be foolish to think that Apple’s not going to try this route again. I can’t be the only one that’s predicting MacBook Airs with 3G and 4G.
Can you imagine the presser? First, Tim Cook conjures his inner Steve Jobs, announcing that they’ve identified a problem. That problem is revealed to be the annoying mobile wifi hotspot. These hotspots are great and useful, but they’re also a pain to carry around, and a drain if you’re using your smartphone as one. The solution Cook would present, to the wild raving of the crowd, would be that Apple had bought Sprint, and that they would be introducing a unified data plan. No more separate contracts for your 3G iPad and iPhone, just one data contract to share at-will between devices.
I’m sure some of you are rolling your eyes in skepticism, but there are several reasons why this would be an immediate success. The carriers are driving profits with the iPhone. Apple knows this, and must feel entitled to a larger cut of the profits. Apple also knows how people use their devices, and could optimize plans for users to get the most for their buck. Apple customers are fiercely loyal, and these early adopters would drive business while less hardcore Apple fans waited for their carrier contracts to end.
The best outcome of all is that Apple would be driving competition. Wireless carriers are bleeding their customers dry with ridiculous fees, caps and restrictions. What the industry needs is an outsider, a technology company willing to foray into the wilds of the wireless jungle.
*We’re going to avoid the ever-changing will they or won’t they AT&T/T-Mobile acquisition-in-progress.