Mobile telecoms: Four is a magic number

IN AMERICA, a price war is threatened. In Europe, combatants in a bloody conflict hope for peace. Both struggles have the same cause: that the number of big mobile-phone operators might be cut from four, the norm in many countries, to three. Regulators have been wary of this, fearing higher prices. In America they remain cautious. But in Europe, where markets are smaller and operators struggling, they may budge.The talk of war came on March 11th from Masayoshi Son, the boss of Softbank, a Japanese firm that controls Sprint, America’s third-largest mobile operator. Mr Son has his eye on T-Mobile USA, which ranks fourth: he wants to create a bigger rival to the two dominant carriers, AT&T and Verizon. Regulators have received the idea coolly. So has T-Mobile USA.Lately T-Mobile USA—which bought a smallish operator, MetroPCS, last year—has waged a guerrilla campaign against AT&T, which has fought back with price cuts of its own. Mr Son promised no let-up: there would be a “massive price war” if he got his way. He added that a strong third mobile operator could also in time compete with fixed-line broadband, where choice is limited, prices are high and speeds…

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