Is MetroPCS in Play?

At last week's Communacopia Conference, MetroPCS (NYS: PCS) CEO Roger Lindquist was asked about the consolidation of the wireless industry. He said the carrier would do the right thing for "our shareholders, partners, and employees."

That right thing may include MetroPCS being acquired by another carrier trying to bulk up enough to contend against the duopoly of wireless heavyweights, AT&T (NYS: T) and Verizon (NYS: VZ) . According to Financial Times, a knowledgeable source has confirmed that MetroPCS is indeed exploring that possibility.

The source claims that DISH Networks (NAS: DISH) , Sprint Nextel (NYS: S) , and T-Mobile USA are the companies doing the wooing. Those carriers have not commented on the matter, but the FT source said, "[T]he dance is definitely real."

The cat was let out of the bag last February that Sprint was then engaged in secret talks to buy MetroPCS. Sprint's board of directors put the kibosh on that deal in spite of CEO Dan Hesse's desire to get it done. Perhaps the board saw that $8 billion price tag -- a 30% premium on MetroPCS' share price at the time -- as just too much to accept on top of Hesse's other large expenditures (a $15.5 billion deal with Apple for the iPhone, for example).

Obviously, then, Sprint's board -- which did not like being brought up to speed on the earlier proposed deal so late in the process -- would need a change of heart (and earlier input) for that deal to work.

T-Mobile's cash resources are about on a par with Sprint's. That is, both companies are already burdened by heavy debt loads. For T-Mobile to take control of MetroPCS would require it to borrow even more, something parent company Deutsche Telekom may be hesitant to do.

DISH, a satellite TV carrier, has been aggressively getting hold of wireless spectrum for its nascent satellite/terrestrial 4G LTE network. DISH would get a running start in its quest to become a wireless competitor if it could acquire a turnkey wireless carrier such as MetroPCS.

Meanwhile, MetroPCS is not hurting. At the end of last quarter it had in its treasury, cash, cash equivalents, and short-term investments a total of $2.3 billion. So for MetroPCS, that means that the company should be able to command a premium price if selling itself is the right thing to do.

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