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In Huawei Battle, China Threatens Germany ‘Where it Hurts’: Automakers

BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel and Premier Li Keqiang of China settled into the back seat of a driverless Volkswagen van, fastened their seatbelts and went for a spin around a disused airport landing strip in central Berlin.

“There is nothing like seeing in practice what’s possible,” Ms. Merkel beamed when they returned.

That was July 2018, when economic cooperation between the two countries looked limitless — combining Germany’s powerful auto industry and China’s technology giant, Huawei.

Eighteen months later, Germany is embroiled in a tortured debate over whether to allow Huawei to help build its 5G next generation mobile network. But with German automakers, including Audi and Daimler, already working closely with Huawei, it may be China who sits in the driver’s seat.

Whatever Germany decides will shape its relations with China for years and reverberate across the Continent. It will send a powerful political signal on how united, or fractured, Europe will be in the digital age of rivalry between Washington and Beijing.

Germany, like all of Europe, is under tremendous pressure to ostracize Huawei by the American government, which fears that it is a Trojan horse that would allow the Chinese to spy on or control European and American communication networks. The pressure remains even after President Trump signed an initial trade deal with China on Wednesday.

But for Germany that decision is especially fraught. Relations with the Trump administration are infused with threats of tariffs against German automakers and mounting distrust that Europeans have come to believe may permanently reshape, if not rupture, a once ironclad trans-Atlantic alliance.

China, on the other hand, is elbowing its way onto the European stage as a new strategic player and an increasingly indispensable economic partner. By far the largest market in the world, it has become the biggest source of growth for Germany’s main carmakers and the key to their dominance of the luxury car market.

It is a position that China has not been shy to weaponize.

“If Germany were to make a decision that led to Huawei’s exclusion from the German market, there will be consequences,” Wu Ken, China’s ambassador to Germany warned last month. “The Chinese government will not stand idly by.”

Konstantin von Notz, a lawmaker and member of the digital affairs committee in the German Parliament, put it this way: “The Chinese have made clear that they will retaliate where it hurts: The car industry.”

For months, German lawmakers have danced around the issue of whether effectively to exclude Huawei from the bidding process. The issue is expected to be debated in Parliament again in the coming weeks. As a decision approaches, Chancellor Merkel has found herself caught between worried German automakers, who accompanied her on a dozen junkets to Beijing, and her own wary intelligence community.

Ms. Merkel, steward of the pro-business Christian Democratic Party, is opposed to banning the Chinese company.

“It is not about individual companies, but rather security standards,” the chancellor said in November. “It is about the certification we will carry out. That should be our guiding benchmark.”

But a rebellion is brewing in Germany’s foreign policy and intelligence community — scared of American threats to limit intelligence sharing — and even among some of the chancellor’s own lawmakers, who want to submit a proposal to Parliament with tougher security criteria that would, in effect, keep Huawei out.

Ms. Merkel’s critics say the current certification process, which merely demands that companies sign a pledge not to spy, is inherently flawed because it relies on trust.

At her party’s annual conference in November, the chancellor’s Christian Democrats disinvited Huawei as a corporate sponsor and passed a motion demanding that only companies “which demonstrably fulfill a clearly defined catalog of safety requirements” should be allowed to bid. One key requirement would be to rule out state interference.

The motion did not name Huawei or China but the implication was clear.

“Under Chinese law companies are obliged to cooperate with the Chinese Secret Service,” said Norbert Röttgen, a conservative lawmaker who co-authored the motion against Ms. Merkel’s Huawei policy. “When you deal with Huawei you also have to accept that you might be dealing with the Chinese Communist Party.”

Cars that can steer themselves may make driving safer but they also open up opportunities for government surveillance and control.

Beyond fears of spying and sabotage, lawmakers warned that if Germany allowed Huawei to bid it would not just alienate Washington but risk undermining a badly needed united European front.

“Our only hope is to stick together as Europeans,” Mr. Röttgen said. That, he said, was also an argument for giving the 5G contract to European companies like Nokia or Ericsson.

Analysts say Nokia and Ericsson, which have won 5G contracts in Denmark and elsewhere, have the competence to build the 5G network, but it would take longer and cost more — not least because Huawei is already a huge part of the existing networks in Germany. Switching will be messy and costly.

Still, Mr. Röttgen said, given the scale of the new bid, if it went to Huawei, Europe risked permanently falling behind.

“If you let Huawei build a big chunk of the 5G network after a while you won’t understand your own system,” he said. “It would be a maximal loss of control and sovereignty.”

“Strategically it is a crystal clear case,” Mr. Röttgen said.

Others, however, say that giving the bid to Huawei may not be such a bad idea.

‘‘If we ban Huawei, the German car industry will be pushed out of the Chinese market — and this in a situation where the American president is also threatening to punish German carmakers,’’ said Sigmar Gabriel, a former German foreign minister and vice chancellor.

‘‘Just because we have an American president who doesn’t like alliances, we give all that up?’’ he said. ‘‘Why would we? Especially since he does exactly what the Chinese do and threatens the German car industry.’’

German automakers like Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW continued to record sales gains in China and to take share from rivals like Ford, even as the overall market has slumped.

“See, last year, 28 million cars were sold in China, 7 million of those were German,” Mr. Wu, China’s ambassador to Germany, added in his remarks in December, making what many in Germany interpreted as a veiled threat.

“Can we just declare German cars unsafe, because we make our own cars?’’ he said. ‘‘No, that would be protectionism.”

As Germany’s automakers have become more deeply dependent on China, they also have become more beholden to the Chinese government.

Chinese consumer preferences, and Chinese government policies, increasingly determine what models the carmakers build and what kind of technology they develop.

China also has become the stage where German carmakers develop and test new technology, often with Huawei.

Audi, the luxury car unit of Volkswagen, announced a “strategic cooperation” with Huawei on developing autonomous driving technology during Mr. Li’s visit to Berlin last year. Daimler, which is 9.9 percent owned by Chinese investor Li Shufu, uses Huawei high-performance computing. BMW and others partner with Huawei on research and development.

No car company is more closely entwined with China than Volkswagen. The company has been operating in China since the early 1980s, when the Communist government first began opening to the West.

Today Volkswagen earns almost half its sales revenue in China and has 14 percent of the Chinese car market.

“If we were to pull out” of China, Herbert Diess, the chief executive of Volkswagen, told the Wolfsburger Nachrichten newspaper in December, “a day later 10,000 of our 20,000 development engineers in Germany would be out of work.”

German carmakers deny that their dependence on Chinese sales has turned them into advocates for Chinese interests.

“We don’t want political developments to spill over into product development,” Bernhard Mattes, president of the German Association of the Automotive Industry, said in an interview in Berlin.

But Mr. Mattes conceded, “We are not operating in a politics-free space, that is clear.”

Huawei has understood as much. Its German headquarters are in Bavaria, alongside BMW and Audi and many other companies deeply embedded in China. The company has been a generous sponsor of all mainstream parties, including Bavaria’s governing conservatives.

Markus Söder, Bavaria’s conservative leader, has publicly defended Huawei’s right to bid, while also lashing out at the United States.

“To say up front that I rule it out because another partner in the world doesn’t like it,” he said, is “a bit of a problem.”

Stephan Weil, premier of Volkswagen’s home state of Lower Saxony and a member of the company’s supervisory board, took a similar line, urging Germany to protect its 5G network from all sides. “I wouldn’t necessarily put my hand into the fire for anyone else,” he said, without naming the United States.

When Peter Altmaier, Germany’s economy minister, recently pointed out that Germany had “not imposed a boycott” on American technology companies after it was revealed that the National Security Agency had tapped Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone, he earned a sharp rebuke from the United States ambassador, Richard Grenell.

“There is no moral equivalency between China and the United States and anyone suggesting it ignores history — and is bound to repeat it,” Mr. Grenell said.

In July 2018, when Ms. Merkel and Mr. Li stepped out of the driverless van at Berlin Tempelhof, once the site of the Berlin airlift and a powerful symbol of Germany’s alliance with the United States, the symbolism was not lost on some.

“The truth is that, if the American security guarantee was what it used to be, we wouldn’t be having this debate,” said Mr. von Notz, the lawmaker. “But it isn’t. And now we need to find a way to defend our freedom and rule of law in this digital world.”

Christopher F. Schuetze contributed reporting.

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The Tech That Will Invade Our Lives in 2020

The 2010s made one thing clear: Tech is everywhere in life.

Tech is in our homes with thermostats that heat up our residences before we walk through the door. It’s in our cars with safety features that warn us about vehicles in adjacent lanes. It’s on our television sets, where many of us are streaming shows and movies through apps. We even wear it on ourselves in the form of wristwatches that monitor our health.

In 2020 and the coming decade, these trends are likely to gather momentum. They will also be on display next week at CES, an enormous consumer electronics trade show in Las Vegas that typically serves as a window into the year’s hottest tech developments.

At the show, next-generation cellular technology known as 5G, which delivers data at mind-boggling speeds, is expected to take center stage as one of the most important topics. We are also likely to see the evolution of smart homes, with internet-connected appliances such as refrigerators, televisions and vacuum cleaners working more seamlessly together — and with less human interaction required.

“The biggest thing is connected everything,” said Carolina Milanesi, a technology analyst for the research firm Creative Strategies. “Anything in the home — we’ll have more cameras, more mics, more sensors.”

If some of this sounds the same as last year, it is — but that’s because new technologies often take time to mature.

Here’s what to watch in tech this year.

In the last few years, Amazon, Apple and Google have battled to become the center of our homes.

Their virtual assistants — Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri — respond to voice commands to play music from speakers, control light bulbs and activate robot vacuums. Smart home products work well, but they are complicated to set up, so most people use virtual assistants just for basic tasks like setting a kitchen timer and checking the weather.

Then in December, Amazon, Apple and Google came to what appeared to be a truce: They announced that they were working together on a standard to help make smart home products compatible with one another.

In other words, when you buy an internet-connected light bulb down the line that works with Alexa, it should also work with Siri and Google Assistant. This should help reduce confusion when shopping for home products and improve the ease with which connected gadgets work with one another.

Ms. Milanesi said that eliminating complexity was a necessary step for the tech giants to achieve their ultimate goal: seamless home automation without the need for people to tell the assistants what to do.

“You want the devices to talk to each other instead of me being the translator between these device interactions,” she said. “If I open my door, then the door can say to the lights that the door is open and therefore the lights need to turn on.”

If and when that happens, your home will truly — and finally — be smart.

In 2019, the wireless industry began shifting to 5G, a technology that can deliver data at such incredibly fast speeds that people will be able to download entire movies in a few seconds.

Yet the rollout of 5G was anticlimactic and uneven. Across the United States, carriers deployed 5G in just a few dozen cities. And only a handful of new smartphones last year worked with the new cellular technology.

In 2020, 5G will gain some momentum. Verizon said it expected half the nation to have access to 5G this year. AT&T, which offers two types of 5G — 5G Evolution, which is incrementally faster than 4G, and 5G Plus, which is the ultrafast version — said it expected 5G Plus to reach parts of 30 cities by early 2020.

Another sign that 5G is really taking hold? A broader set of devices will support the new wireless standard.

Samsung, for one, has begun including 5G support on some of its newer Galaxy devices. Apple, which declined to comment, is also expected to release its first 5G-compatible iPhones this year.

And 5G will be going to work behind the scenes, in ways that will emerge over time. One important benefit of the technology is its ability to greatly reduce latency, or the time it takes for devices to communicate with one another. That will be important for the compatibility of next-generation devices like robots, self-driving cars and drones.

For example, if your car has 5G and another car has 5G, the two cars can talk to each other, signaling to each other when they are braking and changing lanes. The elimination of the communications delay is crucial for cars to become autonomous.

It’s a time of intense competition in wearable computers, which is set to lead to more creativity and innovation.

For a long while, Apple has dominated wearables. In 2015, it released Apple Watch, a smart watch with a focus on health monitoring. In 2016, the company introduced AirPods, wireless earbuds that can be controlled with Siri.

Since then, many others have jumped in, including Xiaomi, Samsung and Huawei. Google recently acquired Fitbit, the fitness gadget maker, for $2.1 billion, in the hope of playing catch-up with Apple.

Computer chips are making their way into other electronic products like earphones, which means that companies are likely to introduce innovations in wearable accessories, said Frank Gillett, a technology analyst for Forrester. Two possibilities: earphones that monitor your health by pulling pulses from your ears, or earbuds that double as inexpensive hearing aids.

“That whole area of improving our hearing and hearing the way other people hear us is really interesting,” he said.

We have rushed headlong into the streaming era, and that will only continue.

In 2019, Netflix was the most-watched video service in the United States, with people spending an average of 23 minutes a day streaming its content, according to eMarketer, the research firm. In all, digital video made up about a quarter of the daily time spent on digital devices last year, which included time spent on apps and web browsers.

Netflix’s share of the overall time we spend watching video on devices will probably decline in 2020, according to eMarketer, because of the arrival of competing streaming services like Disney Plus, HBO Max and Apple TV Plus.

“Even though Americans are spending more time watching Netflix, people’s attention will become more divided as new streamers emerge,” Ross Benes, an analyst at eMarketer, said in a blog post.

So if you don’t like “The Mandalorian,” “The Morning Show” or “Watchmen,” you won’t change the channel. You will just switch to a different app.

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At the Edge of the World, a New Battleground for the U.S. and China

TORSHAVN, Faroe Islands — The mere existence of the Faroe Islands is a wonder. Tall peaks of snow-patched volcanic rock jut out from the North Atlantic Ocean. Steep cliffs plunge into the deep waters of narrow fjords.

The remote collection of 18 small islands, which sit between Iceland and Norway, is known for a robust puffin population and periodic whale hunts. The semiautonomous Danish territory also has a thriving salmon industry.

Technology is not a common conversation topic among its 50,000 residents. Yet in recent weeks, the Faroe Islands have turned into a new and unlikely battleground in the technological Cold War between the United States and China.

The dispute started because of a contract. The Faroe Islands wanted to build a new ultrafast wireless network with fifth-generation technology, known as 5G. To create that new network, the territory planned to award the job to a technology supplier.

That was when the United States began urging the archipelago nation not to give the contract to a particular company: the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei. American officials have long said Huawei is beholden to Beijing and poses national security concerns.

Then Chinese officials got involved. A senior Faroe Islands government official was recently caught on tape saying that the Chinese had offered to boost trade between the territory and China — as long as Huawei got the 5G network assignment.

“Commercially, the Faroe Islands cannot be very important to Huawei or anybody else,” Sjurdur Skaale, who represents the territory in the Danish parliament, said over breakfast in the capital of Torshavn this week. “The fact that the Chinese and American embassies are fighting over this as hard they are, there is something else on the table. It is about something else than purely business.”

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Credit…Ben Quinton for The New York Times

No location is now too small for the United States and China to focus on as they tussle over the future of technology. The Faroe Islands, whose proximity to the arctic gives it added military importance, joins countries across Europe caught in the middle of the two superpowers over Huawei, the crown jewel of the Chinese tech sector.

For more than a year, American officials have applied pressure on Britain, Germany, Poland and others to follow its lead in banning Huawei from new 5G networks. They argue the company can be used by China’s Communist Party to spy or sabotage critical networks. Huawei has denied that it helps Beijing.

But if the European nations side with Washington, they risk harming their economic ties to China, which has a growing appetite for German cars, French airplanes and British pharmaceuticals.

In the Faroe Islands, Bardur Nielsen, the prime minister, has tried defusing the conflict. In a statement, he said his government “has not been pressured or threatened by foreign authorities in relation to the development of a 5G network in the Faroe Islands.”

Any decision about awarding a contract to Huawei, he said, would be made by the local telecommunications company, Foroya Tele.

Foroya Tele said in a statement that it is testing different technologies. The choice of a 5G network provider, it said, “requires significant considerations given the scale and importance of the investment for the Faroe Islands.”

For the people of the Faroe Islands, the debate over Huawei and 5G is rooted in salmon more than in download speeds.

Salmon is central to the territory’s economy. More than 90 percent of the Faroe Islands’ exports are fish, including salmon, mackerel, herring and cod. In the surrounding waters, thousands of salmon can be seen splashing inside large netted rings, where they are bred for meals in Paris, Moscow, New York — and, increasingly, Beijing.

After 2010, the islands’ salmon exports to China picked up. At the time, the Chinese government had slowed the purchase of the fish from Norway in response to the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo in Oslo.

China now makes up about 7 percent of the Faroe Islands’ salmon sales. The Faroese government this year opened an office in Beijing to further expand trade.

In 2014, the islands’ salmon sales to Russia exploded after the European Union limited what fish other countries could export there. Those rules do not apply to the Faroe Islands because it is not a part of the European bloc.

In all, salmon exports from the Faroe Islands are expected to top $550 million this year, up from roughly $190 million a decade ago.

“This is the home place of Atlantic salmon,” Runi Dam, a consultant for local fishing companies, said while standing over giant pens filled with about 15,000 salmon each. “We have the perfect environment.”

Now the salmon business has become entangled in the fight over the 5G wireless network.

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Credit…Ben Quinton for The New York Times
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Credit…Ben Quinton for The New York Times

Last month, America’s ambassador to Denmark, Carla Sands, went public with warnings against Huawei. In an opinion piece in the local Faroe Islands newspaper, Ms. Sands said there could be “dangerous consequences” if the company was allowed to build the 5G network. When countries let Huawei in, she said, “they agree to work under Chinese communist rules.”

In another interview with Danish media this week, Ms. Sands accused a Huawei executive responsible for the Nordic region of “working for the Chinese communists,” who are “exporting their spying, their corruption and bribery around the world.”

Ms. Sands declined to be interviewed.

At the same time, China’s ambassador to Denmark visited the Faroe Islands at least twice in the past two months.

This month, the Danish national newspaper, Berlingske, published the transcript of an audio recording in which a senior Faroe Islands official is summarizing one of the meetings. Herálvur Joensen, a senior aide in the Faroese government, was caught on tape saying China’s ambassador had threated to block a trade deal — and more fish sales — if Huawei was not used for the 5G network.

“If Foroya Tele signed agreement with Huawei, then all doors would be open for a free-trade agreement with China,” he said in the recording. “If this doesn’t happen, then there won’t be a trade agreement.”

A spokesman for the prime minister said Mr. Joensen had not attended the meeting with the Chinese ambassador and was not available for an interview.

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Credit…Ben Quinton for The New York Times
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Credit…Ben Quinton for The New York Times

Huawei’s critics jumped on the revelations, saying the leaked recording showed the close links between Huawei and the Chinese government.

China’s ambassador, Feng Tie, wrote in Berlingske that the country did not pressure the Faroe Islands. “It’s my duty to secure that Huawei is treated fair and without discrimination in Denmark,” he said. “It’s not at all in Chinese culture to promote threats. Promoting threats is more known from the U.S.”

Huawei said in a statement it was not involved in any talks between the two governments.

In villages and harbors around the islands, people said they were bewildered about being thrust into a battle between China and the United States.

“It is a lice between two nails,” said Rógvi Olavson, who lives in Torshavn and is a lecturer at the local university. “You’re squeezed by the U.S. on the one hand and China on the other.”

While many residents said the Faroe Islands prefer the United States over China, several expressed anger at American officials for demanding that Huawei be banned. They said the company helped build the existing 4G network, which they use to make phone calls or share photos from some of the more far-flung areas of the islands.

Sissal Kristiansen, who designs sweaters and other clothing from Faroese wool, said she had listened to a recent interview with Ms. Sands.

“It awoke this, ‘Oh bugger off’ feeling in me,” she said. “We make our own decisions.”

Others are wary about harming economic ties with China, which they fear will retaliate if Huawei is not selected for the 5G network. Many locals remember an economic crisis in the 1990s, when about 10 percent of Faroese residents ended up moving abroad.

Today, unemployment on the islands is almost nonexistent — just 183 people were out of work as of Friday, according to government statistics. Like other Nordic countries, health care, education and other social services are free. There is virtually no crime.

“China is not just a nice customer, it is a necessity,” said Martin Breum, an arctic expert who has written about the Faroe Islands. The Faroese, he added, “have nothing else to sell to the rest of the world. They live off their fish.”

Martin Selsoe Sorensen contributed reporting from Copenhagen.

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How a Top Antitrust Official Helped T-Mobile and Sprint Merge

WASHINGTON — As the $26 billion blockbuster merger between T-Mobile and Sprint teetered this summer, Makan Delrahim, the head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, labored to rescue it behind the scenes, according to text messages revealed this week in a lawsuit to block the deal.

Mr. Delrahim connected company executives with the F.C.C. and members of Congress. And he gave executives insight into the thinking of Ajit Pai, the chairman of the F.C.C. who would also have to approve the merger.

He is “open and willing” to discussions about the deal, Mr. Delrahim said in one text message in June, a month before regulators blessed the transaction.

The messages between Mr. Delrahim and the executives involved in structuring one of the telecom industry’s most significant mergers in generations provide a rare inside look at the hands-on work the Justice Department’s top antitrust official undertook to shape the deal.

While it is not unusual for a law enforcement official to work behind the scenes to help companies overcome antitrust concerns, efforts like the one undertaken by Mr. Delrahim are almost always hidden from view.

The text messages show that he played a crucial role in bringing together top executives of T-Mobile, Sprint and another company, Dish, for negotiations. The Justice Department has said it would not have approved the merger without the emergence of another competitor like Dish.

The Obama administration rejected an earlier proposed merger between the companies, and it remains deeply unpopular with some consumer groups who fear it will increase prices for Americans, especially in rural areas.

Mr. Delrahim oversaw the often hostile talks between the companies, while pulling strings to get lawmakers and other regulators on board.

“Had a generally good chat with the chairman,” Mr. Delrahim wrote to Charles Ergen, the chief executive of Dish, the company that would prove crucial to the deal’s passage. The following day he encouraged Mr. Ergen to lobby lawmakers to urge Mr. Pai to approve new deal terms that would give Mr. Ergen more time to build out a competitive telecom business.

Mr. Ergen did so. He told Mr. Delrahim that he had “very good” meetings in Washington and that he talked to Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, about the deal, according to the text messages.

When asked about the text messages, a Justice Department spokesman said that “the Antitrust Division is proud of its work in reviewing this important merger on behalf of the American consumer,” but declined to comment further.

T-Mobile and Dish declined to comment on the messages, which were submitted as evidence in a legal challenge to the merger led by the New York and California state attorneys general. Sprint didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

The messages also show that SoftBank, the Japanese conglomerate that owns the majority of Sprint, discussed lending Dish money to buy the assets it needed to become a telecom company.

In such an arrangement, SoftBank would essentially be financing a competitor to its own company, Sprint. But SoftBank also stood to lose financially if a Sprint-T-Mobile merger did not happen.

SoftBank declined to comment on Thursday.

In one strained exchange, Mr. Ergen told John Legere, the chief executive of T-Mobile, that he was still working to get terms of a deal done, pending board approval and “any other issues from our/your team.”

“And waiting on Softbank to finance the deal?” Mr. Legere wrote.

Mr. Ergen said publicly this week that several potential lenders had emerged to help his company buy assets, including JPMorgan Chase and SoftBank.

Sprint and T-Mobile, the third- and fourth-largest wireless companies, announced their latest merger plans in April 2018. The carriers promised their union would allow them to combine resources and bring the next generation of wireless broadband, known as 5G, for fifth generation, to rural America. They would have a combined 80 million United States subscribers.

The Justice Department announced its approval of the deal in July, citing the creation of a fourth and new competitor in Dish, which would buy assets from Sprint and T-Mobile to become a telecom company. In a parallel review, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission announced it planned to approve the deal weeks later.

The merger is being challenged in court by several states and cannot close until that lawsuit is resolved. State attorneys general in New York and California are unconvinced that Dish will provide true market competition.

“Dish is a struggling satellite TV firm with no experience running a mobile wireless business — and no current mobile wireless business,” Paula Blizzard, California’s deputy attorney general, said on a call with journalists this month. “We cannot count on Dish one day in the future somehow growing into a viable wireless company equal to Sprint’s reach today.”

Mr. Delrahim was pressured to block the merger throughout the department’s review. Several Democratic lawmakers, consumer groups and state attorneys general said the deal would harm consumers by reducing the number of national wireless carriers to three from four. The reduction in competition would most likely lead to higher consumer wireless bills, the critics warned.

To salvage the deal, the companies came up with a solution: bring in Dish Network to buy some of their wireless assets to form another competitor and maintain four national mobile carriers.

Mr. Delrahim told reporters at a press event in July that the deal would not have passed muster without Dish, which had agreed to buy Sprint’s prepaid wireless service, Boost, for $5 billion, as well as other assets from T-Mobile.

“We were prepared to sue to block the deal,” Mr. Delrahim said in July, when he announced his approval.

In texts sent this May and June, Mr. Delrahim helped coordinate meetings between Mr. Ergen, Mr. Legere and Marcelo Claure, the chief operating officer of SoftBank and the chairman of the Sprint board, as they negotiated asset sales to Dish.

“I anticipate being part of the meeting and then leaving it to you guys to hash out details as needed,” Mr. Delrahim wrote in one text to Mr. Ergen about a meeting with Mr. Legere.

The telecom executives gave Mr. Delrahim regular updates on their often difficult negotiations. Both T-Mobile and Sprint executives were frustrated at times with Mr. Ergen, who told them he needed time to get his board to approve aspects of the deal.

“Why do you always play games. You got a deal of a lifetime and don’t blow it,” Mr. Claure told Mr. Ergen. “And you control your board.”

Mr. Legere and Mr. Ergen were sometimes hard to wrangle. At one point, when Dish sought funding from SoftBank, Mr. Legere was indignant.

“You’ve crossed the line,” he wrote. “For full disclosure (which may be a new term to you) I have told Makan I don’t believe you are serious about doing a deal.”

Mr. Delrahim seemed aware of the friction. In one set of messages, he invited Mr. Ergen to a meeting the next day with Mr. Legere and Mike Sievert, the president of T-Mobile, in his conference room at the Justice Department. “2pm confirmed,” Mr. Delrahim wrote. “I have not told John and Mike the meeting is w you yet, I will tell them in the AM.”

But the day the meeting was scheduled, Mr. Delrahim gave Mr. Ergen an update about a long talk he had held with Mr. Legere, Mr. Sievert and Mr. Claure.

“John is going to reach out to you,” Mr. Delrahim wrote. “May make good sense for you all to meet alone at 2, and then we all meet later today? I will make myself available.”

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