Under pressure from the Department of Justice (DoJ) to ensure that customers using Sprint’s old CDMA (i.e., 3G) network are migrated to 4G, T-Mobile says Dish isn’t moving fast enough

After years of regulatory squirming, US mobile giants T-Mobile and Sprint finally completed their $26 billion merger last year. To appease the regulators, T-Mobile agreed to sell Sprint’s prepaid mobile business, including Boost Mobile, to satellite TV provider Dish, on the understanding that the latter would build its own network and become a national mobile operator.

Following the merger’s successful conclusion, in October 2020 T-Mobile informed Dish that it would shutting down Sprint’s CDMA network in January 2022, giving Dish just over a year to migrate existing customers to 4G and 5G. At the time, Dish complained that it was not given enough time to facilitate the shift, which would require customers to gain access to new mobile devices. Dish had been under the impression that it would be given three years to reach this goal.

They further argue that this earlier shutdown deadline is anticompetitive, suggesting that T-Mobile could be looking to poach their prepaid customers, with a considerable number of Boost’s existing customers set to lose service completely.

T-Mobile countered that Dish was pushing a ‘false narrative’, arguing that the company had been given plenty of notice regarding the shutdown’s parameters. 

By July this year, the DoJ was getting involved in the feud at the behest of Dish, resulting in a letter sent to both telcos expressing ‘grave concerns’ that the current deadline would leave people without service. The letter suggested that if people were to be cut off from service as a result of the current deadline, it may indeed be too short, asking both operators to work together to resolve the issue. 

Earlier this week, however, T-Mobile’s CEO Mike Sievert fired back in a blog post, agreeing with the issue’s importance to regulators and highlighting the work T-Mobile had done to alleviate the transition process for customers. 

“For the CDMA customers who have not experienced faster 4G/5G service, being on that antiquated network is equivalent to being on dial-up internet access years ago. Frankly, it’s unacceptable,” he said, explaining that T-Mobile had been transitioning customers on the same deadline for months, giving them 5G phones for free and offering equivalent service packages for no additional cost.

He went on to criticise Dish for ‘dragging its feet’ during the process, arguing that it is a “manufactured crisis, orchestrated by Dish, and it is about money, not customers”.

“Our friends at Dish have been dragging their feet in getting their customers upgraded to the superior 4G/5G world. As we prepare to sunset the legacy Sprint CDMA network next year and move customers onto a network that will provide dramatically better connectivity and 911 services (and a variety of other customer benefits), Dish has not done nearly enough to upgrade its Boost CDMA customers,” he said. “I find this both disappointing and unacceptable, and frankly so should Boost customers. Dish needs to set aside its own short-term financial self-interests and live up to its own commentary by investing in helping its customers make the move to a current technology.”

Clearly, this dispute is showing no signs of slowing, but with just four months to go until the announced deadline, the time for debate is running out. The DoJ has yet to clearly side with one party or another, expecting both sides to take all reasonable measures to ensure a smooth transition, but legal action could still be taken if a large number of customers find themselves suddenly cut off from mobile services.


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