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SoftBank chief remains mum on T-Mobile deal

The chief of Japanese mobile carrier SoftBank on Friday (Aug 8) brushed aside questions about a plan to buy T-Mobile, in his first public comments since a report said that he had called off the deal.

TOKYO: The chief of Japanese mobile carrier SoftBank on Friday (Aug 8) brushed aside questions about a plan to buy T-Mobile, in his first public comments since a report said that he had called off the deal.

Masayoshi Son, the billionaire head of SoftBank, had never confirmed that he was trying to scoop up the fourth-largest US mobile carrier through its unit Sprint, which SoftBank acquired last year in a monster US$21.6 billion deal. But Son has said that he wanted a stronger number-three carrier to take on US market leaders Verizon and AT&T, and the T-Mobile acquisition was seen as key to that strategy.

This week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Sprint had abandoned a US$32 billion offer for T-Mobile in the face of US regulatory opposition. "SoftBank does not discuss whether or not we intend to purchase particular firms," he told reporters. "I have never made an official comment on this, and I will not have an official comment today."

He added: "There is no change to my belief that the US market can only maintain its health and competitiveness with aggressive competition among three firms rather than being controlled by two."

Son's comments came at a quarterly earnings press briefing in Tokyo where SoftBank announced its net profit had plunged nearly 70 per cent. It said the drop was due to last year's one-off gain tied to its stake in successful game developer GungHo, creator of the blockbuster Puzzle & Dragons smartphone game. SoftBank's net profit stood at 77.6 billion yen (US$762 million, S$955 million), dropping from 244.4 billion, but sales more than doubled to 1.99 trillion yen as the firm incorporated revenue from Sprint.

On Wednesday, Sprint said it was replacing its chief executive Dan Hesse after the apparently bungled effort to take over T-Mobile. Marcelo Claure, who founded and heads Brightstar, a SoftBank subsidiary, was appointed Sprint's new boss. Son said Sprint's network quality had been improved and the firm was ready to take its rivals head on. "Now we are ready to increase our customers. Marcelo is like a street fighter. (Sprint) will launch aggressive sales efforts," he said.

Apart from the Sprint deal, Son has led SoftBank on a string of acquisitions in recent years, stirring concerns about the amount of debt the company was taking on.

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